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Guard members help at SkillsUSA Competition Friday


By 1st Lt. Joe Trovato, Wisconsin National Guard

WISCONSIN DELLS, WI  (ANG PR)  -  Recruiters from the Wisconsin Air National Guard recruited the next generation of Airmen and judged entries in the annual SkillsUSA competition April 11 in Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

The 12 recruiters helped judge the competition at the Chula Vista Resort and manned a recruiting booth aimed at finding future airmen with interests in science, technology, engineering and mathematical fields, also known as STEM.

The Air National Guard has long partnered with SkillsUSA, a program for high school and technical college students interested in fields ranging from hairstyling, masonry, and computer programming, to small-engine repair and robotics. First-place finishers at each state's competition move on to national competition in Kansas City, Mo.

Representatives from the Milwaukee-based 128th Air Refueling Wing, the Madison, Wis.-based 115th Fighter Wing, and the 128th Air Control Squadron, based at Volk Field in Camp Douglas, Wis., filled a variety of roles during the competition, but most judged student projects.

Tech. Sgt. Ryan Russell, and Senior Airman Melissa Mussa, both of the 128th Air Refueling Wing, judged the Robo Rescue Challenge, in which students constructed robots with cameras.

"It's just awesome being able to see them and how much they do," said Mussa, a heating and air conditioning specialist in the Air Guard. "I couldn't do this when I was a kid. It's awesome that they can."

"This is really cool, because this almost exactly mirrors what the 115th's explosive ordnance disposal team does," explained Master Sgt. Zach Brewer. "If you look at the little robots they have, they all have cameras on them. They almost look like a miniature version of 'LaFonda,' the robot that the 115th EOD team has."

The similarities illustrated why the Air National Guard recruits these types of events.

"This is a recruitment opportunity to reach a great number of STEM type students who are in great demand for the Air Guard," Brewer, the state's recruiting and retention superintendant, wrote in an e-mail.

Brewer said that while the event usually only generates a few recruiting leads, it helps plant the seed that the Air Guard offers opportunities for students interested in STEM fields. It also connects the recruiters with high school teachers and administrators who can then direct interested students to recruiters.

"But we've had people come back after they've joined and say, 'I remember you being at SkillsUSA and seeing you guys there," said Brewer. "It's just a good way for us to be involved with the community. We're a small recruiting team, so this is a really big event for us every year."

More than anything, SkillsUSA helps kids considering STEM careers see the Air Guard as a viable option, said Tech. Sgt. Amanda Flannagan.

"A lot of people don't know about the Air National Guard and the people that come here do know," she said. "It really helps get the word out."