POMONA, Calif. (Army News Service) — In 2013, Staff Sgt. Tifani Hightower questioned whether volunteering for recruiting duty was the best decision. She wondered what she’d gotten herself into.
A young Latino lady living in Baytown, Texas, was her first recruiting prospect. The woman saw the benefits of joining the Army and was eager to enlist, Hightower recalled. But shortly after expressing her desire to join, Hightower discovered that the young woman’s family was devastated at the news of her decision.
“Her mother came to me crying, Hightower said. “I was having serious second thoughts about recruiting.”
After the young lady enlisted, Hightower paid frequent visits to the mom to update her on her daughter’s progress in basic training and reassure her that everything would be all right. Upon graduation, the woman’s family was jubilant. Soon after, their car had Army bumper stickers plastered on it.
“The family’s support for her went through the roof,” she said.
Hightower spoke about her experience as a recruiter to 3,000 high school students and 200 educators Thursday here at a National Hot Rod Association event. The event was co-sponsored by the Army and the NHRA, under the Youth Education Services, or Y*E*S program.
Hightower is one of 44 members of the Army’s Female Recruitment Team who specialize in speaking with students and high school faculty at major events like the NHRA about the opportunities the Army offers students, like education benefits, job skills, and leadership training.
In her remarks, Hightower related another story of a young lady from Baytown who was No. 4 in her class. Her counselor wanted her to go to college, rather than join the Army.
But in the end, the University of Alabama, the college she wanted to attend, allowed her to defer for a year so that she could complete basic training and go on to attend school as a Reserve Soldier. In the end, she both completed college and embarked on a promising Army career.
“She wanted to get an education, but she also wanted to serve,” Hightower said.
A third example — and there were more examples than she had time to relate, she assured her audience — involved an 18-year-old man who had his sights set on joining the Army and becoming an airborne ranger; nothing else but that, she said.
“He was so excited when he completed Ranger School,” she said. “He called me with the good news.”
SUPPLYING ‘STRENGTH OF ARMY’
In fact, the young man and others whom Hightower has recruited have kept in touch with Hightower on Facebook, where they frequently reach out to her for advice about various facets of their Army career. In turn, they are happy to provide testimonials to her recruiting prospects about their Army experience.
“They always remember the name of their recruiter and everything about him or her,” Hightower said. “I remember mine: now retired Sgt. 1st Class Steve Powell who now lives in Maryland.”
It’s rewarding work, Hightower said.
“We supply the strength of the Army,” she added.
Sgt. 1st Class Heather Romine, another member of the Female Recruitment Team, has her own stories to share.
For instance, she once recruited an unemployed single mother with a large tattoo near her ear, a clear disqualifier for joining the Army. The woman endured 12 sessions to remove the tattoo, Romine said, then completed basic training. Today she is a specialist and an “ecstatic mom.”
Romine, too, stays in touch with her recruits. Recently, that single mom told her on Facebook that she dressed her young child in a tiny Soldier uniform for Halloween. It’s little things like that that make it all worth the effort, Romine said.
These days, Romine is excited about the combat arms branches opening to women. That’s a huge step forward, she said. In a truly integrated force, women can now be anything they want to be.
Romine volunteered for recruiting duty because she believed she was a natural fit for the job. “I’m a people person and am genuinely interested in people,” she said. She was eventually meritoriously promoted from staff sergeant to sergeant first class, an honor available to just 10 recruiters per year.
There’s a fear among many Soldiers that if they go on recruiting duty, they might fail, she said. However, in her experience, the Army ensures Soldiers have the resources they need to succeed.
It all begins during the six-week recruiting school, Romine said. Her school was at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
At the school, students practice mock interviews that boost their skills and confidence. And they learn everything they need to know about recruiting, from initiating a conversation with a prospective recruit to matching a prospect’s interests with one of the 150 military occupational specialties.
Once recruiters graduate from school, they join a team of recruiters who coach and mentor them using the battle buddy team concept. Students who are motivated will succeed, Romine said.
Recruiters don’t just sit at a desk and wait for calls, she explained. They do a variety of things. They attend local community events like barbecues, fairs, and even do interviews at radio and TV stations.
As far as Romine is concerned, recruiters are some of the best of the best in the Army. They are expected to formulate their own mission plan and carry it out with little to no direction.
They are, in effect, ambassadors of the Army to local communities, many of which are distant from military posts. As such, recruiters are expected to represent what’s best in the Army, Romine said.
That means they must be meticulous and disciplined in their manner of dress, the way they carry themselves and, above all, their adherence to Army values.
SOME QUICK FACTS
— Recruiting Centers are now known as Army Career Centers, and recruiters often refer to themselves as career counselors, according to Romine.
— 24 NHRA events take place in Pomona each year. Students can attend 12 of them through the Y*E*S program during the school year from February to November, minus the summer events, according to Walt Quinn, operations program manager for United States Army Recruiting Command (USAREC).
— Women make up less than 9 percent of the recruiting force in USAREC, compared to the 17 percent of women in the total Army force, Quinn said. Men make up 91 percent of the recruiting force but only 83 percent of the total Army force.
— Some 70 percent of the total recruiting force, men and women included, are selected by the Army for recruiting duty, meaning they didn’t volunteer, Quinn pointed out.
— USAREC’s goals are to increase the numbers of both men and women volunteer recruiters and close the gender gap in the recruiter workforce so that the gender composition more closely reflects that of the total Army force, Quinn said.
MORE ABOUT ROMINE
Romine grew up on a dairy farm in Fennimore, Wisconsin, which currently has about 500 cows. “I learned from an early age that cows are high maintenance,” she said. They need to be milked in the morning and at night, so a vacation is out of the question.”
In 2003, Romine graduated from high school and had to decide what to do with your future. “I knew I didn’t want to be a dairy farmer, wedded to the land, and I knew I wasn’t ready yet for college,” she said. “So I decided to lead my own path.”
Her dad was a Soldier who served from 1984 to 1987 as a diesel mechanic. So Romine looked into joining the Army first. “He didn’t try to sway me one way or the other, but perhaps his service sparked my interest in the Army,” she explained.
She had always loved the swimming and boating, so she told her recruiter she wanted a job involving water. That was how she became a 92W Water Treatment Specialist.
“I love it because everyone needs you,” she said, referring to the need among the Soldiers in the field for potable water for showers, cooking and other uses.
Romine pulled two recruiting tours: Dubuque, Iowa, 2011 to 2013; and, Elk Grove, California, 2013 to 2016.
She is currently being assigned to USAREC as a waiver analyst. The job will involve determining whether prospective recruits with issues like health, finance, drug or criminal records can join the Army.
Romine has 13 years in the Army. She said she is two college courses away from earning her bachelor’s degree.
MORE ABOUT HIGHTOWER
Hightower plans to become an Army officer next year. That’s always been her “end-state” goal, but she wanted to join the Army right away, knowing she would have the opportunity later on to earn her commission.
When she enlisted, Hightower already had a bachelor’s degree in Human Resources. She came in as a 42A Human Resources specialist. After eight years in the Army, she’s now ready to make her move.
Hightower’s hometown is Preston, Georgia. She served two tours on recruiting duty: Baytown, Texas, 2013 to 2015; and, Brunswick, Georgia, 2015 to present.
Pictured above: Staff Sgt. Tifani Hightower, a member of the Female Recruitment Team, chats with students from the Y*E*S program. The event was held Nov. 10, 2016 in Pomona, California.