Story by CPO Carla Burdt on 05/31/2019Aviation Electrician's Mate 1st Class Dennis Hardison, an enlisted recruiter at Navy Recruiting Station Poway, California, is no stranger to the hard work and long hours of recruiting duty. A native of Goldsboro, North Carolina, Hardison has had a job since elementary school.
"I have had a steady job since I was nine years old," said Hardison. "I got my first job running turkeys in and out. I'd go in at five o'clock in the morning before school and run free range turkeys out of the barn and then fold cardboard feed boxes until I went to school. I'd come back after school and bring the turkeys in and fold more feed boxes then go home and do my homework."
Hardison did this until he was 12, then began working in the tobacco fields in the summer and later worked in a slaughterhouse. At the age of 26, Hardison joined the Navy in August, 2001.
"I woke up one day and realized that I needed a real job," said Hardison. "I had a wife and a young child and was making decent money working construction, and then the labor market declined."
Goldsboro, North Carolina is home to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, but he knew that the Air Force wasn't a good fit for him.
"I wanted to join the Navy," said Hardison. "I knew a guy who was a mess specialist back in Vietnam era. He was a big influence on me wanting to join the Navy."
Hardison's original contract was for Hull Maintenance Technician (HT) with an advanced training field of underwater welding.
"I could not get into dive school, so they wanted me to come in as a regular HT," said Hardison. "I was qualified but didn't want to obligate for HT. I made it about halfway to my car in the parking lot and my recruiter called me and said that they have Aviation Electrician's Mate, (AE)."
He had never heard of the AE rating, but upon learning more about the rate, felt that it was a good fit for him.
"While working construction, I did electrical work with my brother," said Hardison. "So I decided that if I couldn't do what I originally wanted to do, this would be good too."
After tours at various squadrons and one as an AE school instructor, Hardison reported to Navy Recruiting District (NRD) San Diego in October 2016. His work ethic at the command has not gone unnoticed by command leadership. Hardison has been recognized as Recruiter of the Month three times and has been awarded the Admiral's Warrior Award for excellence in nuclear field recruiting.
"I see this as a customer service job," said Hardison. "Retention efforts start at these desks. If someone is interested in learning more about the Navy, I try to give them a realistic picture. I try to get them what they want, even though it isn't always possible. This is recruiting, so we do our best by them. I don't want to be someone's bad recruiter story."
He also feels that his relationship with Future Sailors is one of the most important parts of the job.
"Most of the people that come into the office are highly motivated to join," said Hardison. "Our job as recruiters is to ensure they stay motivated until they ship. Relationships are really important to the success of our Future Sailors."
Part of this relationship, Hardison believes, is explaining the difficult aspects of the Navy, while also accentuating the positives.
"You can tell a 17-year-old about the benefits, but what they are most interested in is travel, getting out of their parent's house and having a real paycheck," said Hardison.
There is one benefit in particular that Hardison is most grateful for when he looks back over his career.
"My second son had a medical condition when he was born," said Hardison. "If I hadn't had Tricare [medical], I don't know what I would have done. At the time, there were only 12 specialists in the entire country for his medical condition, and he might have died without access to these specialists. With all the specialists and tests that were required, it would have been hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical costs without Tricare."
Hardison has been in the Navy for 18 years and is selection board eligible for Chief Petty Officer. He is hopeful that he will be selected, but has begun to plan for life after the Navy.
Established January, 1975, NRD San Diego encompasses 210,000 square miles covering Arizona, Nevada and Southern California. Headquartered at Naval Base Point Loma, NRD San Diego has more than 50 recruiting stations in the tristate region and employs more than 300 recruiters, support personnel and civilians.
Navy Recruiting Command consists of a command headquarters, three Navy Recruiting Regions, 18 Navy Recruiting Districts and eight Navy Talent Acquisition Groups that serve more than 1,330 recruiting stations across the world. Their combined goal is to attract the highest quality candidates to assure the ongoing success of America's Navy.
For more news from Commander, Navy Recruiting Command, go to http://www.cnrc.navy.mil. Follow Navy Recruiting on Facebook (www.facebook.com/NavyRecruiting), Twitter (@USNRecruiter) and Instagram (@USNRecruiter).