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Recruiters Reach Out Using Nontraditional Methods

By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., July 4, 2005 – To passersby, a $150,000 custom-built motorcycle might not have much to do with the Air Force, but recruiters beg to differ.

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A race fan at the Pepsi 400 scales an Army rock-climbing wall before the July 2 Pepsi 400 NASCAR race under the watchful eye of an Army recruiter. Photo by Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA

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The motorcycle may not have a military function, but it has a social one - it is a bridge, an icebreaker, something that drew NASCAR Pepsi 400 racegoers to the Air Force display here at grounds of Daytona International Speedway on July 2. Members of the Air Force's 336th Recruiting Squadron set up shop, pressed palms, distributed Air Force trinkets, and helped people get their pictures taken next to the glass-encased chopper.

They also put a face on their military branch.

"This is more about public awareness," Tech. Sgt. Joe Ringold said. "This lets them know we're here," the 22-year veteran and former computer maintenance technician added.

Ringold is a recruiter assigned to the 336th based out of Moody Air Force Base, Ga., and admits that the displays sometimes do more than just serve as a public outreach tool. "We do generate some local leads at these events sometimes," he noted.

Children and parents approached the display as Ringold watched from the shade of an awning, greeting them as they stared at the motorcycle, mouths gaping. The bike was commissioned by the Air Force and built by Orange County Choppers, a company featured on the Discovery Channel's "American Choppers" program.

"A lot of the youth and older males watch the show," Ringold said. And although most of the people visiting the Air Force display come to see the blue chopper and don't necessarily seek to wear the blue uniform, Ringold said it is personally and professionally fulfilling because he became a recruiter to "get out and be interactive with people." It is something he plans to do until he retires, he said.

"This is awesome," said a boy as he and his father posed for a picture. The recruiters standing near the bike smiled as the family walked away, stopping by a table as they left to pick up some Air Force pencils, key chains and other blue-colored paraphernalia.

And although there were no discussions with the family about the Air Force, military recruiters say that interactions like this leave an imprint on the public. They get to see their military men and women in uniform and it leaves them with a good feeling about their armed forces.

"It helps a lot of people to see that we're people," Army Recruiter Cpl. Alex Croteau said. "We're not there to get people, throw them in a car, and make them join the Army," he said with a laugh. Croteau manned an equipment display set up outside the Daytona International Speedway on the July Fourth weekend, less than 100 yards from his Air Force counterparts and a couple of hundred yards from the Navy.

He greeted visitors as they entered the trailer, viewed different Army uniforms and handled Army equipment. Nearby, two young men played "America's Army," a computer game where the players are at war and make their way to objectives, firing computer game weapons. Next to them, another young man donned a flak vest and asked Croteau questions about the vest's weight and comfort.

Croteau, a 25 year-old former multimedia illustrator from Melbourne, Fla., is a recruiter assigned to the Army's Recruiting Command. He said displays like the massive Army presence at Daytona give recruiters a chance to interact with the public one-on-one. And they the public to the services using attractions that are nontraditional for the military, he added.

The Army's traveling display is interactive, and almost like a theme park. It includes a rock-climbing wall, a flight simulator, computer games, personalized dog-tag making machines, a theater, and for NASCAR events, a simulated race track pit area where visitors can challenge the clock and, like a race pit crew, change the tires on a full-sized Army NASCAR vehicle.

Two young men manned high-pitched drill guns as they tried to beat the posted record time. They failed, but tried several more times. Later, they were seen speaking to two recruiting soldiers dressed in desert camouflage uniforms, clad in near-full battle dress.

The soldiers shared stories of military service with the 20-somethings before the two went on their way, wearing personalized dog tags and wide smiles cutting through the long lines that had formed for the rock climbing, flight simulator and pit stop exhibit.

Like the Air Force, the Army does get its share of recruits at these events.

"We do get some that are highly motivated and ready to go," Croteau said. Many, he said, "are looking for something different, and we try to help them out." Many others, he added, are patriotic and looking to serve as soon as they can.

For 21-year-old Barbara Flaherty, that statement couldn't be truer. Later this month she will attend Air Force basic training with hopes of landing a job in intelligence.

"The benefits are awesome, and more than I can get anywhere," Flaherty said. "I'll be well taken care of," she added.

And the thought of military service for a nation at war does not intimidate Flaherty. "That doesn't bother me at all - they can send me wherever they want," Flaherty said. The daughter and granddaughter of military veterans, Flaherty said she intends to "make a career out of it," but if circumstances force her to leave the Air Force, she knows her time in uniform will make her more "marketable."

Before the Pepsi 400 started, Gen. Lance Lord, commander of Air Force Space Command, swore in Flaherty and other Air Force recruits in front of the chopper as race fans looked on.

"There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the change you can effect in young people," Ringold said.

The recruits and recruiters later were guests of the race and met with Army, Air Force and National Guard team crews and drivers. Some also met Pepsi 400 grand marshal, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNASCAR race fans visit Air Force recruiters and some of their volunteer recruits for Air Force trinkets. The recruiters had set up a display at the Pepsi 400 NASCAR event. Photo by Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePepsi 400 fans visit the Army Recruiting Command's traveling display, which is like a mini-theme park and includes a rock-climbing wall, flight simulator and racecar pit crew challenge. Photo by Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy recruiter Cpl. Alex Croteau talks to visitors in his exhibit July 2. The Army's traveling events display was at the Pepsi 400 in Daytona Beach, Fla., for the July Fourth weekend. Photo by Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageChildren look at the Air Force's custom-built Orange County Chopper, commissioned by Air Force recruiters as an outreach tool. Photo by Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA  
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