U.S. Air Force hopeful Top Gun: Maverick excitement will help raise recruitment numbers

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OAK CREEK, Wis. (CBS 58) -- The new Top Gun: Maverick movie may focus on Navy fighter pilots, but that's not stopping the United States Air Force from using the excitement for the film to try and boost recruitment numbers.

Air Force recruiters were spread out at movie theaters across the Midwest for the opening night of shows and the Air Force's new 'Own the Sky' advertisement is playing before Top Gun: Maverick showings across the nation.

"It helps us, big time," explained Tech Sergeant Lee Ciokiewicz with the 347th Recruiting Squadron in Oak Creek. "When you see a movie like that, the first thing you want to do when you leave is start thinking, 'Oh my, that was pretty cool. I could see myself doing something like that.'"

The Air Force finds itself in a tough spot regarding recruitment, down 50-percent of the qualified applicants the branch normally has. The Marine Corps has also seen a 50-percent decrease while the Army is at 14-percent and the Navy is at 34-percent.

"I think one of the challenges is that a lot of individuals decide that their first priority when they graduate from high school is they want to continue their education and go off to college," Tech. Sgt. Ciokkiewicz said. "As recruiters, we're trying to portray the message that the Air Force doesn't just fly planes. We offer over 130 different jobs in a multitude of different career fields, and all those career fields apply in jobs you can use after your Air Force journey has ended."

First Lieutenant McKenzie Rosenthal is a Kewaskum native. A class of 2015 graduate, she decided to follow her father's footsteps and enter the Air Force. She graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 2019 and currently works in administration at the Wright-Patterson Air Force base in Ohio.

"It's not for everyone, but I think if you have a mindset that that's what you want to do and challenge yourself as a person and be part of something that's bigger than yourself, then it's an incredible thing to do," 1st Lt. Rosenthal said about her decision to join the Air Force. "Whatever the Air Force needs me to do is what I'll do. Just being a part of something bigger than yourself."

First Lt. Rosenthal will soon be traveling to Texas where she will look to earn her Master's degree. She then plans to return to Colorado Springs to teach math at the U.S. Air Force Academy, helping educate a new wave of cadets.

"There's a lot of different avenues. A lot of different things people can do," 1st. Lt. Rosenthal said. "I think the biggest thing would be to try and talk and get as much information as possible to see what's the best fit for yourself and for your family. There's a lot of different options and it can be a really good thing if it's the right fit for you."

As for Tech. Sgt. Ciokiewicz, he's hopeful the Top Gun excitement and the busy summer season for recruiters will see more qualified recruits join the ranks.

"Our summer times are our big months for us because our seniors in high school have graduated and they're looking for opportunities and the Air Force is one of them," Tech. Sgt. Ciokiewicz said. "I look for someone who was motivated, someone who wanted to be successful and someone who strove for greatness. Those were big things for me because that's the kind of people we want in the Air Force. We want those people that want to be successful and they want to work hard for the things that they earn."

Those interested in learning more about the Air Force and career opportunities are encouraged to visit its website here: https://www.airforce.com/careersu.

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