CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Man High School students out of Logan County were getting an eyeful at the Air National Guard base in Charleston during a tour promoting education and recruitment.

The students paid a visit to the 130th Airlift Wing within the West Virginia International Yeager Airport Thursday to tour an aircraft, take a look at the mechanics within the planes, and learn about the different career paths, benefits, and incentive programs the Air National Guard offers.

Air National Guard Master Sergeant for the 130th Airlift Wing Casey Reed said this is a tour they like to give all high schools around the region on a frequent basis because they offer multiple jobs within the guard that could appeal to many types of young people who are looking for a future working around planes.

“We have multiple careers that actually work on our aircraft it’s not just one career specifically, so we have things for propulsion, avionics, electrical and environmental, hydraulics, so there’s multiple skill sets when it comes to working on our C130s here,” said Reed.

He said the careers within the guard also range from medical field positions, administrative roles, all the way up to mechanics that work on multimillion dollar aircraft.

Auston Nash, a junior at Man High School told MetroNews that he was excited for Thursday’s tour to get some insight into the operations within the Air National Guard as well as get some inspiration regarding a future career.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how everything works and just seeing how everybody are around here, and just really seeing what great opportunities there are here,” he said.

The students were getting to go around to each of the different shops and operations on the base as part of Thursday’s tour.

In one shop, they got to get an up close look at the older model C-130H engines that the guard used to use in their aircrafts which have now been replaced with C-130J engines they currently fly with.

Nash the engines and planes were bigger than anything he’s ever seen before.

“I think it’s pretty crazy to see how much bigger everything is compared to everything you see around a small area like Man, just seeing regular cars, then you see a bunch of airplane engines and it’s much bigger and how different they are,” said Nash.

A senior at Man High School, Gunnar Cline said he takes a mechanics class at the vocational school in Man. He said he already has a passion for working on engines in vehicles, so it was exciting for him to get see the mechanics in aircrafts.

Students look at C-130H aircraft engines

“I thought it was pretty unique to talk to one of the guys and he told me how the engine works, because, I’m really interested in mechanics and all of that stuff so it was pretty awesome learning about a new engine forum,” he said.

Cline said he could definitely see himself going into something like aircraft maintenance for the Air National Guard in the future.

However, along with learning about the mechanics aspect of the tour, he said he also liked hearing about all of the other various opportunities such as the educational benefits, as well as the leadership and discipline that the guard teaches.

“I feel like that’s pretty cool to learn about and how you can join the military and come out a better person, a better civilian, and you can use those skills in the civilian world,” said Cline.

Sgt. Reed said in the past couple of years, recruitment numbers in the Air National Guard among other military branches has been waning.

He said one aspect of this is due to more and more young people not being medically-qualified to join the military for multiple reasons. Another reason he said is just a general lack of interest.

However, Reed said they are trying to to turn the enlistment issue around by educating young people about the many benefits and opportunities the career offers.

“What we’re trying to do with these tours is bring more of a captive audience to see what we can do to help increase those recruitment numbers,” said Reed. “That’s why we’re encouraging people to reach out to us and learn what we do, because, I think that would really open some eyes and bring more people into the Air National Guard.”

He said he suspects the Covid-19 Pandemic also played a role in the lower recruitment numbers as it had affected every aspect of life, specifically in professional arenas with lockdowns and limited in-person presence.

One major initiative the Air National Guard is taking to boost recruitment besides holding the tours is through a newly-unveiled incentive program designed to reward people at every stage of their military journey.

Reed said they now are offering career bonuses of up to $50,000 for people with no prior service experience depending on the specific field of the guard they go into.

He said this could mean someone straight out of high school coming into the Air National Guard could get their college paid for as well as receive a bonus allowing them to avoid debt in college, along with the additional benefit of already having a career while getting a chance to pursue other passions.

“We have great incentives for those coming out of high school or even someone who’s actually already in a career, specifically those like that of our up to $9,000 in-state tuition, so they could go to WVU or Marshall, or whatever college that’s in the state, we’re going to cover up to $9,000,” he said.

Reed said when new recruits first come in to speak with a recruiter, they will take a test known as the ASVAB. He said the scores they receive on that test will determine which career fields within the Air National Guard that could be made available to them.