Former AF recruiter uncovers ANG applicants' 'story behind a story'
By Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond, 111th Attack Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 11, 2016
HORSHAM AIR GUARD STATION, Pa. -- "Everybody he encountered in life always treated him badly -- treated him like there was something wrong with him," she says, voice quivering in the middle of a story about an Air Force applicant she hoped to recruit. One of many stories.
Tech. Sgt. Elisha Rhodes diverts her gaze. She seems to call on her years of military bearing to halt her tears before they can fully form. "He was so defensive. And I had to teach him that when I asked questions, they're just questions. I wasn't criticizing him."
In the interview with the 111th Attack Wing's newest recruiter, she quickly regained composure and repositioned herself in the chair. Straighter, taller. Using her hands to gently flatten out her already perfectly straightened uniform, she recovered her placid professionalism and continued recounting her experiences as an active-duty recruiter.
Now recruiting for the ANG here, she uses that experience to find new Guardsmen. The way she sees it, an important part of her duty is to look beyond societal branding and recruit members whose service will benefit themselves, their nation and the commonwealth.
But Rhodes has a story of her own. It's one of progress, recognition and acceptance.
"I feel that by me putting on this uniform, the perception is I [embody] the Air National Guard," she said. "So, with that, I would like to personify what we see out in the world ... I'm black, I'm a woman, I'm middle-aged, I'm [gay]. Those are all societal stigmas and stereotypes, which can also be [like] wearing this uniform."
Rhodes, who's originally from Apalachicola, Florida, enlisted into the active-duty Air Force in the late 1990s. Her first assignment was as a medical technician stationed at what is now Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. She stayed there for 10 years before deciding she needed a change. With little more than a recommendation from a friend, she jumped into the Air Force recruiting career field.
Rhodes ended up recruiting in New York City. She says it was in that metropolis of seven million where she nurtured her compassion for individuals.
Rhodes said that while she feels she was always an open person, her time in the city helped her conquer preconceived notions of people. "New York did something to me that allowed me to become a lot more tolerant, because I really wanted to help people," she said.
The Big Apple is also where she learned what she said became a guiding principle: "There's always a story behind a story."
Her recruits included one boisterous and obstinate young lady, who learned humility and humanity during basic military training. She also enlisted multiple immigrants who overcame significant obstacles to eventually join America's military. Some were homeless and untrusting, but later developed into confident and competent Airmen playing critical roles in their respective missions.
"One of her strengths in that she's really adaptable to all kinds of people. She connects with people," said Staff Sgt. Tariq Fladger, one of Rhodes' colleagues. "I think she has the ability to see someone and find out which their niche is and mold them into where they need to be. With recruiting, she kind of takes the sales part out of it and connects with people on a human level."
Rhodes' recollections of her time as an active-duty recruiter are almost exclusively positive. But like years before when she realized she needed to leave Andrews and her medical career, she recalled when a big change was due once again.
"My office partner in New York ended up joining the Air National Guard, and he told me about it," she said. The coworker was someone Rhodes held in high regard, and so she felt compelled to investigate a career with the ANG.
Her next move was pretty straightforward: She said she saw an advertisement for a recruiting position at Horsham Air Guard Station, and she applied. Shortly after, she was hired.
"My time here has been great so far," Rhodes said. "I think with the Guard, you have the chance to see people as they are -- not just who they are at work."
And those who work with Rhodes have gotten to see her, too. They've witnessed a Guardsman and person who not only improves the readiness of the ANG but also the lives of her applicants and even her fellow service members.
"She's just a good all-around person when it comes to morals and values," said Fladger. "Having those traits, her way of working with people, makes the Air National Guard better - not just the for applicants, but also with those she works with. She brings the best out in people."