By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jason Robertson
U.S. Air Forces Central
KABUL, Afghanistan, March 25, 2014 – Wearing 50 pounds of armor and carrying an M-4 assault rifle with a full combat load, a U.S. Air Force recruiter is working to recruit the future of the Afghan air force.
Deployed as an advisor with the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing and NATO Air Training Command Afghanistan, Senior Master Sgt. Carmelo Vega Martinez is the only Air Force recruiter deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and possibly the only U.S. Air Force recruiter ever deployed to Afghanistan.
A Ponce, Puerto Rico, native, Vega Martinez brings a vast knowledge to this deployment. He graduated from recruiting school in 1995, and has spent the last 19 years of his 24-year career as a recruiter. Back at home station, he serves as production superintendent for the 368th Recruiting Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.
"It's very unusual for a recruiter to deploy," Vega Martinez said. "I've been bringing people in the Air Force for almost 20 years, and I thought, ‘What a great opportunity to go out and see our airmen doing the things I've been recruiting them for.’"
Working on an Afghan air force base here, Vega Martinez's mission is to advise the Afghan air force on establishing and sustaining a recruiting service for years to come. This task also requires him to occasionally leave the safety of the base and visit Afghan recruiters in the national capital.
"I'm a one-man shop here to help the Afghan recruiting team," Vega Martinez said. "Back home, I'm responsible for almost 50 people across seven states, so I spend a lot of time on the phone. Here I've been able to focus more on these guys, because they're my mission. Getting these guys trained as a capable recruiting force able to sustain the Afghan air force is my job."
The Afghan air force is not independent of the Afghan army, and it shares the army’s recruiting resources. Two months into his six-month deployment, Vega Martinez said, he sees progress toward development of an effective recruiting service.
"When I got here, the recruiting team had no training and were unknown, even within Afghan channels, as a valid recruiting team," he said. "Through my interaction with them, I've been able to get the leadership and all the moving parts together to get them moving along."
Like any working relationship, it took a while to get used to working with the Afghans and for the Afghans to get used to him, Vega Martinez said.
"I've found that working with the Afghans, I've had to really hit the brakes and spend some time researching and trying to understand not only their culture, but their system, and how things get accomplished here," Vega Martinez said.
The experienced recruiter quickly learned that Afghans are about relationships. He said he was able to gain their trust and respect by helping them with their first recruiting symposium with Afghan leadership.
"He's helped our air force in a better way," said an Afghan airman whose name is withheld for security reasons.
"I'm definitely certain the effort here has given these guys the basics they need to build a sustainable program and air force for years to come," Vega Martinez said. "I think when I leave, if things keep going the way they're going now, I'll leave with the satisfaction that we set them up for success."