By Curt Yeomans
After nearly two decades seeing the world with the U.S. Air Force, Tech. Sgt. Nicole Skipper is closing out her military career by giving young people the chance to have the kind of experiences she has had.
Skipper, 40, has been in the Air Force for 19 years. She started out working in the supply field, and eventually moved to logistics planning. She has been deployed overseas four times during her career, but she said she cannot say where she has been deployed. "It's for security reasons," she explained.
For the last three years, Skipper has been working as a recruiter at the Air Force recruiting office, located at 1510 Southlake Pkwy., in Morrow. The office recruits people from Clayton County and northern Henry County.
It is where the recruiter plans to spend the upcoming final year of her military career, before she retires. "I wanted to do recruiting, because I wanted to help people get in [the Air Force], and my mother is here [in the Atlanta area], so it's close to home," she said, on Thursday, during a break between recruiting appointments.
Skipper is somewhat of a rare commodity among local Air Force recruiters, although the numbers have been increasing somewhat in recent years. She is one of only a handful of female recruiters that the service branch has in the Atlanta area.
"There's a lot of us out there [now]," she said. "When I first got here, I was the only one within our little area [the Atlanta area], and now there's four, three years later."
She said she loves being a recruiter, and finds the job to be "very rewarding. We're actually starting people off on their careers."
The Morrow-based recruiter attributes the increasing number of female recruiters to a growing variety of people in the military, even though she added that males still make up approximately 75 percent of the prospective recruits her office sees.
"With changing times, there are more female recruiters," she said. "I know when I came in, I had male recruiters, but we're putting more people in the Air Force, so the Air Force is getting more diverse."
Skipper added, however, that she does not face problems getting respect from male, potential recruits, who come to her office. "They want some discipline," she said.
She explained that Mondays are the busiest days at her recruiting office. Mondays, she said, she and the other recruiter at the office, Tech. Sgt. Cire Clarke, receive an average of 30 calls, and up to 20 walk-in visits from people interested in joining the military. Those numbers drop in half on Tuesdays, through Fridays, she added.
The majority of people who come to her office, Skipper said, are individuals who have just graduated from high school. One of the main selling points for prospective recruits is the chance to get a college education that is paid for by the military, the recruiter said.
"While they're in the military, they'll go to school under tuition assistance, so we provide them with free college while they're in," she said. "Now, let's say after four years, or six years, they want to get out. As long as they've paid into the [Montgomery G.I. Bill], which is another way of paying for their school ... They can still use the G.I. Bill [to pay for college]."
But, getting into the Air Force is no easy task, according to Skipper.
A potential recruit has to be between the ages of 17 and 27, have a high school diploma, good credit history, cannot be a single parent, and should have no physical limitations, no law violations (although waivers can be sought for minor violations), and no tattoos on necks or ears (all other tattoos must be described in detail for review by Air Force officials).
She also said a potential recruit must score "at least a 50," out of a top score of 99, on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery [ASVAB] test.
"In terms of people who qualify, and make it in, I'd probably say 30 percent [qualify]," she said.
The awards that hang on the walls in Skipper's office show she has regularly been successful in getting prospective recruits through the recruiting process, and into the Air Force. She has earned several "overachiever" awards for exceeding her monthly recruitment quotas, sometimes by as much as 200 percent.
Airman 1st Class Dinh Le, one of the people Skipper helped get through the recruiting process at the beginning of this year, said her assistance was invaluable. He is now spending two weeks in Skipper's office, as part of the Recruiters Assistance Program, before deploying overseas, to begin his first assignment as an Air Force firefighter.
"She was very helpful," he said. "She gave me all of the information I would need for basic training."
Skipper, who has an 8-year-old son, Nicholas, said she did not originally plan to stay in the military for two decades, but her career began when she followed her heart ( her now ex-husband).
"I dropped out of college, back in 1989 [ South Carolina State University]," she explained. "And, when I dropped out of college, I didn't really have any other options. I met a guy, and he was actually interested in joining the Air Force, so he kind of sparked my interest. He actually ended up getting out after 3 or 4 years, and I just stayed on for 19 years."
When asked why she stayed in the military so long, she replied that it just sort of happened to work out that way. "When you do your enlistments, they [the military] do four to five years at a time," she said. "So, when it comes time for you to re-enlist, or for you to get out, they actually offer you: 'Do you want to get out? Or do you want to stay?'
"So, you probably have to make that decision probably a year out, but I just kept re-enlisting, and re-enlisting, and here I am 19 years later."
Anyone who would like information on joining the Air Force, can call the service's Morrow recruiting office at (770) 968-0950. Skipper said appointments are preferred, if someone wants to the visit the office.