Finding Tomorrow's Sailors
The Benefits of Recruiting Duty
FC2(SW/AW) Brian Whitaker saw recruiting duty as a chance to be close to home. With a three-year-old daughter and coming off four-and-a-half years of sea duty aboard USS George Washington (CVN 73), he wanted a chance to spend some time focused on his family.
So when he entered his detailing window, he asked if there was a recruiting billet close to Richmond, Va. He was in luck. There was a billet in Fairfax, only 100 miles north of his hometown, but he had to qualify.
"My daughter was with me in Japan, and I wanted her to get to know her aunts, uncles - get to know her family," Whitaker said. "I wanted to spend a little more time with her on shore duty as well."
Fortunately, he was a top-notch Sailor with solid evaluations and no physical fitness shortcomings. His chain of command endorsed his special-duty screening package.
Whitaker is one of literally thousands of Sailors from the fleet who are selling the Navy to potential recruits around the country, and in some cases around the world. (The Navy has recruiting stations in Guam, Europe and Japan.)
Fire Controlman 2nd Class Brian Whitaker, a Navy recruiter out of Navy Recruiting Station Fairfax, goes over paperwork with Daniel J. Roy, a recruit candidate in the delayed entry program (DEP.) Individuals in the DEP program attend monthly meetings with their recruiters to prepare them for Recruit Training Command.
In fiscal year 2013, Navy recruiters brought 40,681 enlisted Sailors into the Navy across 1,450 recruiting stations. The vast majority of these recruiters are just like Whitaker, fleet Sailors who take special duty and work outside of their rating. (Whitaker is a NATO Sea Sparrow missile technician by training.)
For some Sailors, the transition from fleet Sailor to recruiter might be a breeze, especially if they are naturally outgoing and have an extrovert personality. For others, like Whitaker, learning the art of salesmanship can be a bit more challenging.
"It was a difficult transition, especially for me," said Whitaker. "I really didn't have any experience in sales before recruiting. The only training I received was the one-month course the Navy offers in Pensacola, Fla."
Whitaker said his challenge was learning to listen to people when he talked to them about the Navy; learning to have a conversation. He also had to learn the finer points of public speaking. He said it took him about three months to begin to feel comfortable with the job.
"People are looking for information about the Navy for a reason," he said. "I'm not going to figure out what they want if I'm just rambling on about why I joined the Navy or how my time has been. [I'll never] find out those reasons without me paying attention to what it is exactly they need."
Three-and-a-half years later, Whitaker is now one of his recruiting district's top recruiters. In fact, he was credited with being the number two recruiter for bringing in candidates into the Navy's special warfare program. During his tour, he was responsible for bringing more than 70 people into the Navy.
Fire Controlman 2nd Class Brian Whitaker, a Navy recruiter out of Navy Recruiting Station Fairfax, talks with Nick Lipnicky, a recruit candidate in the delayed entry program (DEP.) Individuals in the DEP program attend monthly meetings with their recruiters to prepare them for Recruit Training Command.
"He is my best recruiter. He always strives to achieve," said NC1(SW/AW) Charon Bingham, the leading petty officer for Navy Recruiting Station Fairfax. "He's always the one that goes out and makes up for where we fall short."
At NRS Fairfax, Whitaker works with three recruiters and a leading chief petty officer. On a typical day, (Whitaker said there are no typical days in recruiting because every future Sailor presents a unique set of circumstances,) he gets visits from people who are in various stages of joining. Some people just want basic information; others are trying to get their personal affairs in order to meet Navy requirements.
Each time a future Sailor visits the station, Whitaker goes over a checklist on what stage of the process they are in - he reviews with them the 11 general military orders, facing movements, Navy ranks, and checks height and weight to make sure the future Sailor will be within standards when he or she "ships out."
Fire Controlman 2nd Class Brian Whitaker, a Navy recruiter out of Navy Recruiting Station Fairfax, records the height and weight of Nick Lipnicky, a recruit candidate in the delayed entry program (DEP.) Individuals in the DEP program attend monthly meetings with their recruiters to prepare them for Recruit Training Command.
Other days, he finds himself visiting a nearby school to talk to students during lunchtime, or escorting a future Sailor to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) at Fort Lee, Va., to meet with medical screeners. While the hours can be unpredictable at times, Whitaker said the effort is worth it.
"I would really love to run into some of my Sailors in the fleet," said Whitaker. "I feel like I've put some quality Sailors in the Navy."
For every six people he talks to about the Navy, Whitaker said he may find one qualified applicant.
On a wall at the Fairfax recruiting office is a status board that has the chain of command for future Sailors enrolled in the delayed entry program. There is also a stack of about 20 letters posted on the board from recruits at Recruit Training Command thanking Whitaker for helping them get in the Navy, and letting him know how they are adjusting.
A stack of letters from Recruit Training Command provides daily inspiration for Fire Controlman 2nd Class Brian Whitaker, a Navy recruiter stationed at Navy Recruiting Station Fairfax. "Getting those letters is one of the best parts of my job," said Whitaker.
"That's a feeling you can't get from a paycheck," Whitaker said. "I love it. It feels like I always get those letters on those days I'm coming from MEPS at 9 p.m. [with someone who] wasn't able to get in. That's the best feeling; they're simply saying 'Thank you.'"
Know Your Audience
The Fairfax, Va., area is one of the most affluent areas in the nation. In 2009, it was listed as number three on Forbes' list of "Top 25 Towns to Live Well." With a median income around $86,000, recruiting in Fairfax presents its own unique challenges.
"How do you entice an applicant [here] who has everything he needs and everything he wants? He certainly doesn't need a scholarship," said Lt. Cmdr. Lily Burchill, the division officer for Division 4, which encompasses Washington, DC, Fairfax, Silver Spring and Gaithersburg, Md. "Well, money can't buy a challenge or facing that leadership challenge and rising to the occasion. That's what [the Navy] offers."
Fire Controlman 2nd Class Brian Whitaker, a Navy recruiter stationed at Navy Recruiting Station Fairfax walks with a future Sailor after he took the oath of enlistment and officially entered the delayed entry program (DEP) at the military entrance processing station (MEPS) at Fort Lee, Va.
Bingham agreed that it's about tapping into the person's needs and desires.
"You have to listen," she said. "If you don't listen, somewhere in that conversation the applicant is going to say a need. If you don't listen, you're never going to find out the applicant's need."
Making a Successful Recruiter
For Sailors considering recruiting, the recruiters in the Northern Virginia region offered some advice on what type of person makes someone successful.
"It's not a normal shore duty," said Bingham. "It's not a 9-to-5, 7-to-3, or a watch bill. It's a self-paced, self-motivated duty. You have to want to be here."
Burchill added that those who are not enthusiastic about the Navy should not apply for recruiting duty.
"You have to love the Navy. You have to believe in it," said Burchill. "This is not a job, it's a lifestyle, it's a career. You're the face of the Navy itself. People will quickly see through someone who is faking it. If you don't really buy in, you're never going to be a successful recruiter. You have to believe in your product, and our product is the Navy."
NCC(SW/AW) Jide Azeez, the division leading chief petty officer for Division 4, said recruiting duty needs Sailors who are self-starters and don't require someone constantly looking over their shoulder.
"This job requires you to follow up with people," said Azeez. "You talk to people who have very little understanding about the Navy, and sometimes you have to help them understand what the Navy has to offer them."
For Whitaker, he's wrapping up his tour as a recruiter and excited to return to the fleet. His next duty will be to attend C-school to become a Rolling Airframe Missile technician with a follow-on assignment to a ship.
Fire Controlman 2nd Class Brian Whitaker, a Navy recruiter out of Navy Recruiting Station Fairfax, speaks to a student during a visit to Herndon High School in Northern Virginia.
Sailors who find they love recruiting can request to cross rate into the career recruiting force to become a Navy counselor (career recruiter). Currently, the NC(CRF) rating is at 85 percent manning, and the field is taking applications for conversion into specific year groups.
Sailors around the fleet interested in recruiting duty should talk to their chain of command, their command career counselor and their detailer.
Photos by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nathan Laird