PEORIA, Ill., June 13, 2016 – Staff Sgt. Rachael L. Blasko is a recruiter with the Illinois Air National Guard’s 182nd Force Support Squadron here, and she wants to meet potential recruits.
More importantly, Blasko wants to meet the men and women that make up the 182nd Airlift Wing here.
It’s all about making sure the right people end up in right units, Blasko said. To ensure units get the personnel they need, Blasko said she needs to know the shop and the people. The only problem is that she’s relatively new to the wing.
“I still have people that come to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re a recruiter? I had no idea,’” Blasko said. “So, [to be] a good, successful recruiter — people [need] know your face.”
In her two short years with the unit, Blasko has earned her place with the best of Peoria’s wing. She has recruited 63 airmen to date, earned state and regional recruiting awards in her first year, and was the unit’s top recruiter in 2015. However, for Blasko, it’s not about the numbers — it’s about making long-lasting connections in order to better the organization.
Blasko said she wants meet unit members, make them feel comfortable picking up the phone to call her, and she wants to help them accomplish their missions.
“I want to have those relationships with those supervisors out here, because I work with everyone,” she said. “I can feel out their personalities, as well, and recruit for them.”
Establishing those relationships is part of what makes a good recruiter, and networking is the key to everything, Blasko said.
“It’s being able to relate to people. You have a lot of different personalities that you meet,” she said. “A good recruiter can adapt to any environment.”
Being adaptable is what makes the career field so enjoyable for her, she said.
“I love it. It makes me happy. It’s not a job to me,” Blasko said.
Blasko enlisted in the Air National Guard in 2011. A series of quick career progressions took her from the 183rd Fighter Wing to the Illinois National Guard Joint Force Headquarters before she landed here at the 182nd Airlift Wing. Her fast-paced lifestyle continued into the recruiting career field, one that Blasko said never stops moving.
Her typical day, Blasko said, involves talking with potential recruits and their parents, answering questions, voicemails and emails, and many high school visits and community relations events. She said it’s all about getting the Air National Guard’s name out in the community.
“We used to be the best-kept secret. We don’t want to be the best-kept secret anymore,” Blasko said.
The Illinois Air National Guard’s secret is in its incentives. It is one of 25 states that will pay recruits four years of full tuition to any state college or university, as well as offer $20,000 in enlistment bonuses and up to $700 a month to go to college — all for being a reserve airman.
“I’m here to offer your kid awesome benefits, and just to be part-time — work one weekend a month, two weeks out of the year. A minimum of 39 days a year, if you really think about it,” Blasko said.
For some, she said, those incentives could be a game-changer for high school or community college graduates entering the next stage of adulthood.
“Most kids want to go to college, but now they’re maybe $60,000, $80,000 in debt, when they maybe had a little small passion to serve in the military [also],” Blasko said. “That’s why we should be out there, because we have a lot more to offer.”
If debt-free college sounds appealing to someone interested in serving in the armed forces, Blasko said she wants people to feel comfortable talking with her about the opportunity.
“Our job isn’t to just start pounding them with the information,” she said. “My job’s to build a connection with you and make sure you can trust me.”
Building that trust often helps alleviate the fear sometimes associated with military service, Blasko said. Her grandmother, she said, was terrified at the thought of her granddaughter putting on the uniform and being shipped away to war. However, she soon learned that being in the military wasn’t always as depicted in war movies. In fact, she said, while the Air National Guard and active-duty Air Force receive the same training, skillsets and missions, the Air National Guard answers a unique additional calling: Serve the state’s local communities.
The Air National Guard’s primary mission is to be the first choice for homeland operations when activated by the state governor for emergencies and natural disasters, such as floods, earthquakes or civil unrest, Blasko said. The second mission, like the active duty component, is to be the proven choice for the war fight when activated by the president to deploy overseas, Blasko said. In the meantime, airmen train part-time in their career fields in order to be always on mission, she said. Some apply for full-time positions, like Blasko.
“[My grandmother will] look back now and tell you that it was the best decision for me. It’s given me a path. It’s given me a full-time job now, retirement, an awesome income,” Blasko said. “Those benefits are out there, should you want those.”