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Contacting an Air Force recruiter for the first time will likely be the first interaction some people have ever had with the military directly and can be a scary thing to do when you don’t know what to expect.
First of all, you should know that simply calling a recruiter or walking into their office isn’t obligating you to military service. There are no secret vans waiting outside with blacked-out windows just waiting for someone to walk in so they can whisk them off to basic training. Enlisting in the Air Force can actually be a long process and many people will be turned away for not meeting the Air Force’s standards.
What is a recruiter
A recruiter is a US Air Force member whose sole job is to recruit and enlist civilians into the Air Force. Recruiting is a “Special Duty” and is done by people with other regular jobs in the Air Force who have volunteered (or been told) to be a recruiter. When your recruiter went to basic training they did not come straight out of tech school and start recruiting people. They could have been a plumber or a dental technician or F-16 maintenance expert before they became a recruiter, so they all have experience with the “real Air Force” and are not just repeating rehearsed lines to you that they learned in tech school.
Just like every other job in the world, there are good recruiters and bad recruiters. You may have heard that recruiters are liars and will promise you anything to get you to sign the enlistment contract. While this may sadly be true for a small number of recruiters, the majority are honest and will not lie to you about what to expect just to get you to sign up.
The Air Force generally does not have any trouble meeting their recruitment quotas from year to year unlike the Army and other branches, so the recruiters do not need to resort to some of the same tactics as other branches in order to meet their quotas in general.
That said, it is important that any guarantees you get from a recruiter are written in your contract and are not just a verbal promise from the recruiter. For instance if a recruiter was to say “Oh yeah, I’m sure you’ll be a Loadmaster when you get to basic training and they hand out the jobs” but it is not in your contract that you will be a loadmaster, then that is not a guarantee. When you are at basic training saying “But my recruiter said…” don’t expect any sympathy from the personnel there.
The first call
First of all, the first time you call an Air Force recruiter or speak to one in person, expect them to be busy. Recruiters are some of the hardest working people in the Air Force working the longest hours and may have dozens of recruits in the process of enlisting at any given time. In order to make sure they aren’t wasting your or their time, they will most likely have you fill out a pre-qualification questionnaire that will ask a series of questions to see if there is anything that stands out that will immediately disqualify you without going further into the process.
The form will of course ask for your contact information such as name and address and telephone number so the recruiter can reach you later. You can then expect to be asked a few general questions such as your age, height/weight, level of education completed, if you’re currently employed or attending high school, etc.
You’ll be asked if you have any medical conditions such as asthma, internal problems, hereditary problems, anything for which you are taking medication, etc. You’ll be asked if you’ve ever seen a mental health professional or received counseling of any kind or have ever been diagnosed or treated for a mental illness. You’ll be asked if you have any uncontrollable fears such as being afraid of the dark or heights or guns.
The recruiter will ask you over and over and over if you have ever taken any illegal drugs. This question will be asked a dozen different ways and three dozen different times before you get to basic training. It is important to answer honestly every single time. Mild drug use will not automatically disqualify you from service in the Air Force. They will consider what kind of drugs you took, when it was, how many times, etc.
They will ask you if you have a criminal record or have ever been arrested for any reason. Again, it is important to be truthful and having a criminal record will not always disqualify you from military service. They will find out if you have a record though, so do not try to hide it. The background investigations are extremely thorough, especially when they start the one for you to receive a security clearance, so make sure you do not get caught in a lie later in your career.
Finally you’ll likely be asked why you want to join the Air Force, what you expect to get out of it, if you were referred by someone, etc.
After taking down this general information your recruiter will likely let you know if they immediately see anything that will disqualify you from enlisting and if not they will probably set up an appointment for you to come back for the next stage of the process which will be piles of paperwork and deeper interviews.
The first meeting
The first meeting with the recruiter will likely be in their office and will be an informal chat asking more about you, why you want to join the Air Force, about your past, and answering any questions you have about the Air Force.
Speaking to a recruiter is not quite like a job interview. As long as you meet all of the qualifications and they have a need for you, the recruiter is most likely going to be happy to sign you up. However, the recruiter will probably be in their dress blues and it can say a lot about you if you meet with the recruiter in some decent clothes and not smelling like you just got back from the gym.
The recruiter may have also given you a list of things to bring with you to the first meeting such as your birth certificate, driver’s license, social security card, high school diploma or GED, etc. Make sure you bring all of the items requested, as it will simply delay the process for both of you when you’re having to hunt down documents later.
During the first meeting you may also be weighed and have your height checked, just to double check that you meet the height and weight requirements for the Air Force. (It’s ok if you don’t meet the standards at this point, but you will have to meet the minimum and maximum weight requirements before you go to basic, so your recruiter may tell you you have to lose or gain weight before you can go.)
After the initial meeting you may decide right away to continue the process of enlisting, or decide that the Air Force isn’t for you or that you need more time to decide or want to come back with more questions, etc.
Lying to a Recruiter
I wrote a whole page about lying to a recruiter.
Your ongoing responsibilities
If you decide to continue the process of enlisting, the recruiter will be your sole point of contact for any questions you have up until you get on the bus to San Antonio to begin basic training. Between the time you agree to enlist and the time you leave for BMT, your responsibilities will be to get in shape, stay out of trouble, and possibly help the recruiter around their office and attend periodic meetings with the recruiter as well as make sure the recruiter has all of the information they need to process your enlistment. More of what to expect from this period can be found in the section on the Delayed Entrance Program.
If and when you do decide to enlist, your next step will be the Delayed Entrance Program or DEP.