The mission of Air Force Recruiting Service’s Detachment 1 is to inform, influence and inspire the nation’s youth and their influencers. Its goal is to get in front of every demographic group in America and show them someone in a flight suit who looks like them that they can look up to.
And that’s exactly what they are doing.
AFRS Det. 1 is currently reaching out to thousands of young people – mentoring, educating and giving them opportunities to hopefully one day fly in the Air Force. Det. 1, which was stood up in October 2018, is celebrating two years of helping address rated diversity in the Air Force, and it has experienced monumental growth in this short period of time.
“I was part of the team that initially conceptualized Det. 1 about six months before it came to fruition,” said Lt. Col. Lindsay Andrew, former Det. 1 director of operations for nearly two years and current director of staff for the 306th Operations Support Squadron at the U.S. Air Force Academy. “The initial concept was to create a direct-reporting support squadron to centralize recruiting efforts for the Total Force to harness technology, innovation and aviation to transform traditional recruiting by augmenting ‘on the bag’ recruiters. Our major initial challenges revolved around manpower and funding. We took on this task with only two personnel and casual lieutenants and lacked support necessary to execute funds to maximize impact.”
When it came to selecting the first commander of Det. 1, things progressed quickly and somewhat unexpectedly for Lt. Col. Kenyatta Ruffin. He came in with the experience, having founded the Legacy Flight Academy in 2012 and being a Tuskegee Airmen in 2007 as a part of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing in Iraq.
LFA is a non-profit organization that combines quality character development programs and aviation experiences that inspire youth to achieve their goals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, careers while becoming strong citizens and contributors to society.
“I first began discussing recruiting transformation with a small group of other officers in late 2017, early 2018 – I had no intention or idea to think that I’d end up leading it,” Ruffin said, the first Det. 1 commander and current 71st Operations Support Squadron commander, Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. “The conversations were truly revolutionary and very conceptual at first, so as the idea became more tangible, the suggestion for me to lead it emerged. Ultimately, the Air Education and Training Command and AFRS commanders and leaders at Headquarters Air Force determined that I should move from the Pentagon to JBSA to lead this organization. It still didn’t have a name.”
Ruffin was given less than three weeks from notification to be in place at JB San Antonio-Randolph. He said it was a small miracle to move his family on this hyper timeline. Though his team was initially small, once he arrived he did have a budget to work with.
“The initial challenges were never-ending and everything you could imagine with standing up a new organization that no one really understood,” Ruffin said. “To begin, I had one million dollars and one other assigned officer and we were supposed to change the world. There are a ton of things we accomplished in less than a year – it was a true whirlwind. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I think we did something like 60 actual engagements that first full year, literally all around the world and reaching tens of thousands.”
Ruffin recalls some of the highlights and milestones during his command, including establishing the motto “Inform, Engage, Inspire,” creating the Aviation Recruiting Team, heavy involvement in the Captain Marvel movie and the successful marketing campaign that lead to the largest number of female applicants ever at the Air Force Academy.
Det. 1 also had events with the Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., and conducted the second annual Aviation-Character-Education Solo Flight Program, which included returning Air Force flight training to Tuskegee, Alabama, for the first time since the end of World War II.
When Ruffin left Det. 1, the unit had an identity, but there was still plenty of growth to come. Lt. Col. Cathyrine Armandie followed Ruffin, being a female fighter pilot, she knew firsthand the lack of diversity within the pilot ranks.
“Det. 1 was very much in the experimental phase when I arrived,” said Armandie, the second Det. 1 commander and current chief of rated diversity at Headquarters Air Education and Training Command A3/6. “Lt. Col. Ruffin and Lt. Col. Andrew explored a wide gamut of programs and events to see what innovative programs could be launched. They explored partnerships with nonprofits and large-scale business organizations. They worked with Junior ROTC and the Civil Air Patrol to explore different flight opportunities. They also tested various technologies to determine what best attracted audiences and piqued the interest of youth and influencers.”
Her goal for the detachment was to determine which of these programs would be scalable and sustainable to most effectively reach desired audiences. She also focused on forging partnerships with affinity groups and building the foundation for a strategic communication plan to include the launch of Inspire AF social media streams.
“The first significant milestone was the AETC Women’s Fly-In which developed a template for Aim High Outreach events. Five major commands and 110 enlisted and rated aircrew attended from around the globe,” Armandie said. “This was a pivotal event for many of our attendees who never experienced something like this.”
“We achieved our main goals of youth outreach, orientation fights, and professional development and mentorship. We simultaneously launched our new social media platforms during the three-day event. This is really the turning point where Det. 1 became an identifiable and significant organization, not only within AFRS but at the Air Force level.”
Andrew’s time with Det. 1 overlapped each of the commanders and she was there to witness the growth of the organization.
“Det. 1 evolved the most during the first year of operation from our initial mission set,” Andrew said. “We took on a more narrowly-focused mission revolving around increasing diversity in the rated career fields with a youth and pre-accession focus. Our major initiatives were to establish relationships with strategic partners and aviation organizations with youth partnerships and establish a team beyond Det. 1 to participate in outreach events.”
Once Det. 1 became established and had a known mission, the goal became to expand its reach.
“During our second year, we focused a lot more on establishing a social media presence, formalizing partnerships and contracts and growing our aviation outreach team from approximately 100 members to 350 members. We focused on professionally developing and training the Aviation Inspiration Mentors, or AIM, to be professional Air Force ambassadors and mentors,” Andrew said. “As I ended my time as director of operations and transitioned to the third commander, our outreach went virtual due to COVID(-19) with the establishment of the Pathway to Wings program as well as the Virtual Aim High Flight Academy.”
The third and current Det. 1 commander, Lt. Col. Annie Driscoll, an experienced HH-60 helicopter pilot who worked in combat search and rescue, is now tasked with an even more progressive order to assure rated diversity is at the forefront. She is thankful for the groundwork that has been laid to help her team meet this challenge.
“Our Air Force senior leaders have valued diversity for a long time,” Driscoll said. “I’m grateful that two years ago they recognized the need to put resources toward this critical deficiency. At the time I was at Air Force Personnel Center working on the rated assignments floor. I know how critical-rated manning is and how many competing priorities there are out there. The fact that the chief of staff of the Air Force has pushed rated assets to tackle this critical imperative shows that it’s truly in our leadership’s top concerns. It took a full two years to build the framework of Det. 1, but when the rest of the nation really got serious about having critical conversations, we were and are postured to have them.”
Even before the current social injustice issues in our country, Det. 1 and AFRS had already made rated diversity improvement a priority. But recent events made Det. 1’s mission even more important.
“The tragic death of George Floyd has served as an accelerant to drive rated diversity improvement and diversity and inclusion,” Driscoll said. “I personally love to see the Air Force talking about diversity and in some areas the lack thereof, in every circle imaginable. This of course means that Det. 1 is busier than ever before, but I am hopeful that the Air Force is headed toward meaningful change. I can only hope that our nation and society will be quick to follow.”
Maj. Gen. Jeannie Levitt, the former commander of AFRS, was leading the service and instrumental in the creation of Det. 1. Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, the current AFRS commander, is equally dedicated to the mission of improving rated diversity.
“Even before I took command I knew with certainty that improving diversity would be among my top priorities,” Thomas said. “Our key lever in that pursuit is simply improving our ability to attract more diverse, top quality recruits—especially in our flying force— and Det. 1 is 100% committed to doing that all day, every day. It’s time to make significant progress and we must seize the moment and ensure we are getting the best Airmen from all parts of America.”
From Driscoll’s standpoint, while there’s a new leader, the message has remained the same.
“He’s been amazing to be honest,” Driscoll said. “There hasn’t been a beat missed between Maj. Gen. Leavitt’s vision and his. Without a doubt, improving diversity in our Air Force and creating deliberate change to improve rated diversity is among his highest priorities. Diversity and inclusion is a topic that is incorporated into every AFRS division staff and flows from there to every echelon of recruiting service. AFRS deems RDI as a no-fail, time-critical mission.”
Det. 1 has its first full Aim High Flight Academy, three, three-week aviation/mentorship-based camps, scheduled for the summer of 2021. More new programs are on the horizon.
“We have our very own podcast that we’re on the brink of releasing,” Driscoll said. “The podcast will highlight and share the diverse stories of Airmen, exemplifying that each person has their own unique pathway to wings. We are also expanding our Aviation Inspiration Mentorship team. We are looking to grow it up to 1,000 members and broaden their mission with localized youth engagement. We hope to see every flying wing with an active group of AIM members working with their local communities, inspiring youth, and sharing their experiences with those who are not familiar.”
In just two short years, Det. 1 has made a big impact reaching a diverse audience. In total, Det. 1 has conducted 165 events with more than 355,000 attendees, directly mentoring more than 39,000 youth. On social media, Det. 1 has nearly 8,500 followers, with 3.2 million impressions, and had more than 390,000 engagements. With only 30 Det. 1 posts on Air Force Recruiting Service sites, they have garnered 2.43 million in reach, 210,000 video views, 863,000 social impressions, and nearly 32,000 in total engagements.
Driscoll has some lofty goals and a vision for what she expects to see during her tenure as Det. 1 commander.
“By the summer of 2022, I expect to see us as a fully manned, well-oiled machine,” she said. “I want to see both the demand for Rated Diversity Improvement initiatives and the demand to come to AFRS Det. 1 so high that the detachment grows to a squadron. I want to see AIMs operating at every flying wing as the primary conduit between the local community and the operators on the base. I want to see nine to 12 Aim High Flight Academy camps a year rather than three. I want the AIM team to be a commonly known acronym that is cherished among squadron leadership and Air Force senior leaders. I want every child to know they too can have their own unique pathway to wings. In two years from now, I don’t want AFRS Det. 1 to be the RDI house … I want it to be a whole neighborhood.”
Each of the previous commanders remain committed to Det. 1 and plan on participating in future events.