Inside the Gates: Recruiting the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region in Cessna 172
For the past five years, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Masterman with the Alaska Army National Guard has used his own airplane in and out of Bethel to recruit Alaskans living in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region.
"My job is extremely unique I'm pretty much the only guy that I know of that does what I do," Masterman said.
The area Masterman covers in his 1962 Cessna 172 extends past 50,000 square miles.
"My area of responsibility is from Tuluksak down to Quinhagak, out to Hooper, Chevak and Scammon," Masterman said.
But he doesn't stop there.
"I actively travel to those villages," Masterman said. "I actually have everything from Naknek to Iliamna all the way up to Unalakleet."
Masterman decided to use his own plane because it became too hard to recruit and get to all of the villages flying out of Bethel Airport.
"Using the airlines here in Bethel, I'm kind of at their scheduling whim," Masterman said. "Lots of times it's difficult to travel from one village to the other in the village clusters."
Some of those villages are 15 to 20 miles apart. Rather than making back and forth trips to each, Masterman can hit one after another in his Cessna.
"One it's cheaper for the government to pay me my mileage using this than a plane ticket and I have my own schedule," Masterman said. "I've gone on week long trips before."
Masterman says he started in Bethel in late August 2014. The first year was tough but he was determined to succeed.
"I've enjoyed some success at the job," Masterman said. "A couple years ago I managed to pull off recruiter of the year for the state which is kind of a big deal."
It's a huge accomplishment given the vast range of Alaskan terrain and limited amount of potential recruits Masterman and fellow recruiter Sgt. Paul Wilbanks have to work with.
"It's very different here than anywhere else for almost any other recruiter," Masterman said. "Most urban recruiters they'll get a 40-square mile area with upwards of 50,000-60,000 people in that 40 square miles. I've done the math out here, there's less than 12,000 recruitable age individuals for me to go after over the extent of 50,000 square miles"
The dynamic duo fly together to remote Alaska locations. Like a recruiter who gets paid for mileage in a car, Masterman gets paid for his mileage in his plane.
"I get a little bit of compensation," Masterman said. "I don't get paid directly to fly it. Just like it was my car I get mileage, just like it was my own personal vehicle."
Masterman and his unique style of recruiting will soon come to an end as he is next in line to lead the recruiting team based out of Wasilla. Once he leaves Bethel, Wilbanks will fly solo — but not in a personal plane.
Wilbanks will go back to the traditional way of booking flights to villages through the airlines in Bethel.
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