by Airman 1st Class Cynthia Yang

MILWAUKEE — The Wisconsin Air National Guard’s three bases — the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee, 115th Fighter Wing in Madison and Volk Field Air National Guard Base in Camp Douglas — partnered once again to host the three-day Junior Enlisted Orientation Program (JEOP) that helps first-term Airmen gain a better understanding of the Air National Guard and the support roles that they provide in the U.S. Air Force, July 31-Aug. 2.

Select Airmen from all three Wisconsin Air National Guard bases traveled to each base and explored different career opportunities in the Guard, participated in team-bonding and leadership activities, and connected with military leaders through facilitated discussions.

“The Junior Enlisted Orientation Program is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for first-term Airmen to experience the overall mission of the Wisconsin Air National Guard,” said Senior Master Sgt. Ryan Branz, first sergeant with the 128th Air Refueling Wing, and lead of JEOP 23. “First-term Airmen being able to see the role that the entire state of Wisconsin has in the Air Force mission is a huge benefit — the professional development classes, and being able to speak with senior leaders, can also impact an Airman’s career choices. When they hear the success stories or the fact that a one-star general was once a [personnel specialist], their eyes open and realize that they can have a rewarding career in the Air Guard regardless of their Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC).”

The goal of JEOP is not only to help Airmen understand how their individual roles contribute to the overall mission of the air force, but to also encourage Airmen to consider a long-term career with the Air National Guard through connection and networking.

“It’s critical that Airmen understand as much about the organization that they’re part of, while at the same time learning to do their assignment,” said Brig. Gen. David W. May, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general Air. “Creating that broader understanding of everything that’s going on in the state and meeting people to build that initial network is huge, because the relationships that they form here will likely last most of their career and beyond.”

At least one participant seemed to achieve that broader understanding.

“This JEOP experience provided me with insight on various occupations outside of my own, which I can use to gain a better understanding of the overall mission,” said Airman 1st Class Colton Brandsma, a munition systems specialist with the 115th Fighter Wing’s Maintenance Support Group. “I learned it’s essential to reach out to others and ask questions because, down the line, they are the people that are going to support me in my career.”

From creating connections with one another to building camaraderie, military leaders who helped facilitate the program encouraged JEOP participants to continuously develop those relationships as those bonds are vital to the success of any military organization.

“We start building our Guard family from day one,” May said. “And this is an opportunity to start picking out your brothers and sisters that you’re going to grow and develop personally and professionally with over the years.”

JEOP participants stressed the importance of making the most of the program.

“It is not something every Airman gets to be a part of,” Brandsma said. “It’s truly a privilege to be able to experience it with your peers. Go into it with a sponge mindset and soak up all the information various occupations offer, also, have conversations with the people around you to better understand careers outside of your own.”

Branz emphasized receiving more Airmen nominations to improve first-term Airmen experiences and to assist those who are interested in cross-training over to other career fields in the Air National Guard.

“I would like to see more supervisors nominate their Airmen to attend,” Branz said. “I feel that JEOP is a great retention tool. If you have an Airman that is on the fence about re-enlisting, it would be a great time for them to attend. Or, if any Airmen are not sure about their current AFSC, JEOP would be a great time for them to see about finding a new job in the Guard.”

As part of the career exploration, Airmen received the opportunity to fly in a variety of aircraft, including the Army Black Hawk helicopter and KC-135 aircraft.

“One of my favorite experiences was the KC-135 flight because it was the closest I came to seeing the final step in completing a ‘mission,’” Brandsma said. “We had a chance to get an up-close look at the refueling process mid-flight between the KC-135 and a couple fighter jets — not something you see every day.”

After a successful program, first sergeants and the teams that made JEOP possible reflected on the efforts it took to put everything together that include coordinating activities, keynote speakers, food, funding and more.

“Planning is key in having a successful JEOP,” Branz said. “The first sergeant councils grow stronger when they work together. It requires a lot of dedication and after-hours work to make it all come together — the planning for JEOP is like a part-time job.”

JEOP will continue to occur once every summer to ensure that many first-term Airmen receive the opportunity to explore all three Wisconsin Air National Guard bases and see different career opportunities, connect with military leaders, and witness a deeper side of the Air National Guard and U.S. Air Force.

“I am really proud of the cadre that put this together and all the people that come together to make this happen,” May said. “All of you will need to replace all of us at some point, making sure that we’re growing folks who have committed to this organization from day one is just absolutely essential. Our young people are the future.”

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