[ IN THE MILITARY ]
GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii Air National Guard chaplain Capt. Leah Boling, holding a ti leaf, blessed the Hawaii Air National Guard's Aiea Heights recruiting station -- the first located outside of Hickam Air Force Base -- Friday. Participating in the blessing were Master Sgt. Rick Tucay, left, holding a candle; Senior Master Sgt. Bridget Komine, and Master Sgt. Ben Ormita.
Isle Air Guard hauls in recruits
Officials emphasize the need to improve after losing retirees
The recruiting numbers are up for Hawaii's 2,500-member Hawaii Air National Guard.
Last fiscal year the Air Guard experienced a 24 percent increase in the number of recruits, Brig. Gen. Kathy Berg, the Hawaii Air Guard's chief of staff, said.
In the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, the Hawaii Air Guard brought in 225 new airmen.
"It was our best year since 9/11," Berg added.
Even with the increased demand on the citizen soldier work force, the Hawaii Air Guard continues to retain more than 90 percent of its airmen, Berg added.
Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in Washington, D.C., and New York City, Berg said the Hawaii Guard's security force was tapped for everything, including beefing up the law enforcement teams at Hickam Air Force Base.
"They have really done well," Berg said, "since many of them are police officers in the civilian world."
But even with such rosy recruiting and retention figures, the Hawaii Air Guard still needs to mount an aggressive recruiting campaign, said Senior Master Sgt. Bridget Komine, recruiter and retention superintendent.
"That's because last year we lost 40 percent through retirement," Komine said, "and we are facing another large retirement group."
With three flying squadrons in the Hawaii Air Guard, there is a continuing need for pilots who have the opportunity to sit at the controls of anything from F-15 jet fighters to the jet tankers and transports.
Come January, the Hawaii unit will be the first Air National Guard unit to be partnered with the active Air Force and will be flying C-17 Globemaster jet cargo planes out of Hickam Air Force Base.
There are 29 Hawaii Air National Guard C-17 Globemaster air crews now flying missions in Southwest Asia.
"We've flown more than 1,000 mission hours," Berg said, "even before we get an actual C-17 here."
Berg and other Hawaii Air Guard officials attended the blessing Friday of the service's first off-base recruiting station located on the second level of the Aiea Shopping Center.
The increased security measures at Hickam Air Force Base caused by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, made it harder for civilians, potential recruits and their families to talk with island recruiters, Berg said.
"This puts us in the community which we hope to serve better," Berg added, "and really cuts off the problem."
Master Sgt. Celia Espinosa, who has been a Hawaii Guard recruiter since 1991, said the type of people joining the Air Guard changed after Sept. 11.
"Before 9/11," Espinosa said, "people joining the military did it for money and the experience. There wasn't a war then.
"After 9/11, the U.S. experienced a wake-up. It showed us that we do not live in a safe world. We are vulnerable."