Why we recruit Published May 3, 2014 By Col. Mike Feeley Commander, 166th Airlift Wing NEW CASTLE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Delaware -- Fact: Our wing manning level stands at an all-time high of 105 percent as of April 2014. We've had a steep climb of over 14 percent in our manning level in the past two-and-a-half years. In 2012 the Delaware ANG was 4th from the BOTTOM for all 54 states and territories for ANG unit manning levels. In January 2014, we were listed as 3rd from the TOP in the same category. We've achieved a manning increase many times over the norm of a typical well-functioning unit. You have continually heard me say that no task is more important to this wing than raising our manning level. As the Air Force downsizes, units that are not fully manned are more vulnerable to cuts than fully manned units. Effective manning is another key indicator the Air Force looks at when determining which units or missions to keep or cut. Effective manning is the number of fully qualified and deployable personnel. Although our end strength is well above 100 percent, our effective manning is not. We must continue to recruit to well beyond 100 percent in order to get ahead of the number of qualified personnel we lose through normal attrition. As personnel attend technical schools and complete upgrade training, we will eventually get close to the goal of being 100 percent effectively manned. Our manning numbers compare very favorably with other ANG units. Leaders at the Air National Guard, the National Guard Bureau and the Air Mobility Command have taken note. The numbers are also noticed within Delaware by our adjutant general and by our local, state and federal elected officials. In short, our manning strength helps to justify the existence of the unit. This rise in manning is due to several factors, and I'll touch on a few. A lot of people have pulled together to obtain notable success in our manning levels, making us a healthy unit. Our Operation Full Strength team has tasked senior NCOs across all units and fields to assist with our recruiting initiatives. They have given our Recruiting and Retention Team some additional resources so R&R can focus on what they do best, and they have performed in a Herculean manner. We've increased the volume of new enlistees processing through the Military Entrance Processing Station. We've improved our student flight to better prepare our new enlistees for basic and technical training. And we've improved how new recruits are integrated into work centers, where on-the-job training puts their recently acquired Air Force skills to use. Our Airmen then begin to feel a real sense of accomplishment and start to flourish in their career. If we, the experienced hands of the Delaware ANG, do our jobs right, our new members will help to attract future waves of recruits and thus help balance the recruiting load. Question: Do we now "level off" and put the wing's recruiting and retention focus on autopilot, or do we keep up our successful recruiting efforts? My answer: We need to sustain our efforts, and maintain our drive to recruit and retain quality people. Why do we require additional focus on improving our manning strength? We still have openings we need to fill. For example, we have over three dozen vacancies for officer and enlisted positions. And recurring separations, transfers and retirements open up additional slots. Plus, there is a demand for our Airmen to be mission ready. Remember that each Air Force Specialty Code has a mandatory wartime tasking. In order to fulfill our part of the Air Force mission to "Fly, Fight and Win ... in Air, Space and Cyberspace," we need strength across the board in all of our AFSCs and work centers. If every one of our approximately 1,170 members was ready to go to war tomorrow, our capability to go to war would be at 100 percent. Two factors combine to reduce the percentage of members deemed capable of going to war. First, there is 18 to 24 months' time between when a newly enlisted person has raised his or her hand to enlist, and when they finish military entrance requirements, basic and technical training, and get signed off to be mission ready. Second, in the typical 20-year career of any Airman, there are times when a person's medical status changes, preventing them from deploying. While all of their other training requirements may be "green", their medical profile now prevents them from being fully mission capable and able to deploy. These factors explain why are presently short of having 100 percent of our members ready to deploy, and why there is still room for improvement. In addition to fulfilling our federal mission to be ready to go to war when called up and mobilized by presidential directive, we must be prepared to fulfill our second and equally important mission - to serve our state and assist Delaware citizens, or to help another state in a disaster response. Sustaining our 105 percent manning level is our next major challenge. Recall Newton's first law of motion: "An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force." Now, how we operate is hardly a perfect match for Newtonian physics. The friction of day-to-day base operations can slow us, and as a human institution our focus can easily be redirected or misdirected. My point: Let's keep our individual and collective motions going in a unified manner in order to maintain our present manning levels. Focus on making improvements in the quality of our Airmen; the payoff will be to the long-term benefit of our wing. Going forward, we have the population and demographics locally to support the manning required for the mission because our location in northern Delaware puts us close to thousands of potential recruits. Together, we can keep the rock of recruiting success rolling. I will remain your Wingman to help ensure full strength in our manning.