One of the best things you can do in order to obtain that coveted Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) or Guard/Reserve position off active duty is to pick up the phone and call the unit you’re interested in. Many people don't like to call units directly; they are fearful of saying something wrong. For some, their apprehension might be caused by not knowing who to ask for when they make the call. We here at BogiDope think that if you don’t call your desired unit directly, you are potentially making a big mistake—one that your competition probably isn’t making. In order to assist you in making that first contact, we have created this guide to help you understand who to talk to so that your first phone call is a success.
Finding the contact information for the unit you want apply to can be difficult. (We know, because we have literally spent weeks tracking down numbers and calling each squadron directly!) Fortunately, BogiDope has consolidated this information and streamlined that process for you by providing an interactive map of the all the different flying Guard and Reserve units around the country, along with their contact information, and even a specific hiring point of contact (POC) in most cases. Other websites, such as the official Guard and Reserve sites, offer similar services but are more broad in nature and not aviation specific. Once you are able to obtain the unit’s contact information, it’s time to pick up the phone and call.
Each base will have a recruiting office whose soul job is just that, to recruit. This should be your starting point since it's their job to answer your questions regarding employment. A recruiting office will typically consist of 2-5 enlisted members and is separated from day-to-day flying operations (i.e. they might be slighly out of the loop with what happens in Ops). The vast majority of recruiters focus their efforts on recruiting enlisted members into the Wing because 75% of the Wing is made up of enlisted members. Often there is one recruiter, typically the supervisor, who specializes in officer recruiting. This is the person you want to talk to.
To find this person, simply ask to speak with the officer recruiter or more specifically the recruiter in charge of pilot hiring. If you can't get ahold of the officer recruiter, and you have no military experience, don't be surprised if you get pitched on the idea of enlisting in the Wing first to increase your chances of being hired as pilot later. Afterall, they're recruiters! If you're interested in that option, it may substantially increase your chances of being hired several years down the road. However, if not, just politely ask to leave a message for the pilot hiring POC.
Keep in mind that not every unit uses their recruiters for pilot hiring. As a very rough estimate based on all the calls we've made, approximately 30% of the squadrons do all of their pilot hiring without going through the recruiting office. Regardless, the officer recruiter should be in the loop and can direct you to the pilot hiring POC if it's someone different.
The Ops Desk or Command Post
The Operations (Ops) desk is the central communications hub for daily flying operations. If the squadron is working or flying that day, there will be a pilot at the Ops desk to answer the phone. Understand that the primary job of the Ops desk is to execute the flying operations for that day—if they are busy at the time you call, don't be put off by it. Simply ask for when a better time would be to call back.
Every fighter squadron will have an Ops desk number, however many aircraft (e.g. tankers) likely won't. For these units, you may be put in touch with the Command Post or a specific office inside Ops, such as scheduling. The Command Post is the central communications hub for the entire base. They monitor not only flying operations, but also base security and current events that may effect the Wing. The Command Post is not who you want to talk to about pilot hiring, however they will likely be able to forward you to a pilot to help answer your questions.
Once you are able to reach someone at the Ops desk or Command Post, your goal is to have them connect you with one of the following four people:
- Squadron Commander
The first person you are going to want to ask for is the commander. For those of you not familiar with the military structure, think of the commander as your boss. It’s best if you know who the commander is already—but if not, don’t worry. Simply ask for his or her name and contact information, or asked to be transferred. Another option is to ask for the commander’s email address and contact them that way to start a dialogue.
The Squadron Commander's main goal is to take care of the people. Therefore, they are going to be focused on understanding your desire to join the unit and how you may or may not fit into the future hiring plans of the squadron. The commander is most likely going to be the person who has the most information regarding the squadron’s hiring process and when the next hiring board will take place. If there is an upcoming hiring board, expect that he or she will pass you off to the hiring board POC. If there isn't an upcoming hiring board, he or she will likely copy your contact information down and contact you when the next hiring board is on the books.
However, the Squadron Commander is extremely busy and often gets multiple calls about pilot hiring a week, so don't rely on your contact information getting saved. If you haven't heard anything, simply call or send an email every few months asking for an update.
- Director of Operations
The next person to ask for if you are unable to get a hold of the commander is the squadron's second-in-command, the Director of Operations (DO). He or she is in charge of running the flying aspect of the squadron and might be extremely busy, especially during flying Ops. The DO is a great person to talk with to understand the Ops tempo of the squadron and what to expect if they hire you into the unit. Take the time to talk with him or her, but understand that you’ll most likely have to talk with the commander at some point.
- Operations Group Commander
Another person you might talk with is the Operations Group Commander (referred to as the "OG"). If you’re not familiar with the Air Force structure, the OG can be thought of as your boss’s boss. The OG is most likely a Colonel who oversees hundreds of airmen beneath him or her. While they ultimately own the responsibility of the hiring process, most OGs will delegate the task of hiring to the squadron level, which is run by the Squadron Commander. It is not recommended to go straight to the OG, but if you do end up talking with him or her, be honest and do your best to articulate your desires. If you can convince the OG to hire you, then the battle is probably already won.
- Hiring Board POC
If the squadron is having a hiring board any time in the near future they will appoint a hiring board POC. After making initial contact with any of the above three individuals, you’ll be passed along to the POC. From that point forward you are most likely going to deal directly with this person. The POC is going to work with you to collect all of the information that is required for the hiring board process and they will keep you informed about the hiring board schedule. You can expect that this person will join the commander as a voting member on the hiring board, so be professional!
The Interview Starts Now!
It is important to understand that the interview begins the moment you pick up the phone and call the unit. It is extremely hard to undo a bad first impression—make sure that you are prepared to answer questions like “Tell me about yourself” or “Why do you want to join the unit?" All of the individuals listed above might not be on the hiring board, but some will serve in that capacity. Be prepared, be honest and most importantly—be yourself!