JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas --
In what’s believed to be a first, Air Force Recruiting Service’s top recruiter received an incentive flight with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds as a congratulations for all of his hard work.
Master Sgt. Gervacio Maldonado, a former Health Professions recruiter and now flight chief with the 318th Recruiting Squadron, was surprised and ecstatic when he learned winning the 2018 Maj. Gen. A.J. Stewart Top AFRS Recruiter award would take him even higher.
“I was blown away,” Maldonado said after hearing about the opportunity to fly. “The news stopped me in my tracks.”
The flight, with Thunderbird pilot #8, Maj. Jason Markzon, was a first for Maldonado in any fighter aircraft.
“I’d always wanted to fly in a fighter aircraft, however I never thought it would come to fruition,” Maldonado said. “I was so pumped to fly with the Thunderbirds.”
According to Maldonado’s supervisor, he is more than deserving of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“His selection for this flight is an honor for all recruiters and Airmen,” said Senior Master Sgt. Aaron Akridge, 318th RCS Production Superintendent. “I’m honored to see the Thunderbirds bestow this opportunity to a hardworking Airman such as Gervacio Maldonado.”
Recruiters have the opportunity of being the face of the Air Force at many local events where the Air Force doesn’t normally have a presence.
“Anyone selected for recruiting duty during the Developmental Special Duty process should embrace the opportunity,” Maldonado said. “Whether it is representing the Air Force at your local fairs or on larger stages like the NBA All-Star game or the Super Bowl—you will have plenty of chances to enjoy these unique experiences.”
He recalls attending his first NFL game—an opportunity he had because of his recruiting duties. “I was on the 50-yard line! It was awesome.”
His production superintendent also shared many interesting things he has learned about the top performer since they began working together.
“He’s an entrepreneur and a thrill seeker,” Akridge said. “He’s built a successful lodging business as well as conducted freediving all around the world, most recently in the Fiji Islands. But the most important aspect I’ve learned about him is his genuine passion to help others. He is a true Wingman, always there to listen or help when and if needed.”
According to Akridge, while Maldonado was a firefighter, he directly responded to over 360 fire, rescue and medical calls, and he still volunteers as a firefighter in his off-duty time. Also, being a recruiter is a natural fit for Maldonado’s entrepreneurial spirit after spending the first part of his career as a weapons specialist.
“Being a recruiter is very business-like,” Maldonado said. “It lets you operate your very own Air Force franchise. You will have quite a bit of autonomy to conduct the business as you see fit—you will not find that in many career fields within the Air Force.”
Maldonado continually reminds himself it’s all about the opportunities. Most recruiters focus solely on the goal and not the experience, he said.
“As a recruiter you are the face of the Air Force, the gatekeeper,” he continued. “You are a beacon of opportunity and will be sitting in the most opportune position to mentor and directly change lives. Just like any job there are challenges, but again, it is what you make of it. Stay positive and know that all your efforts are undoubtedly contributing to the betterment of people and the future of the Air Force.”
Those efforts are what got Maldonado his flight with the Thunderbirds, something he described as breathtaking.
“I still can’t believe people get paid to do this job,” he said. “They told me as I was preparing for the flight to be ready for the ride of a lifetime—and that’s pretty accurate!”
He praised the demonstration team members for their very high standard of professionalism and attention to detail.
“As a recruiter, my focus is on customer service and they provided that in very detail—from beginning to end,” he said.
Both Akridge and Maldonado agree that they hope the tradition of flying the top recruiter with the Thunderbirds continues every year since the aerial demonstration team is an extension of professional Air Force recruiters.