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In-step master sergeants share small world, big Air Force

Basic Military Training photos for Master Sgt. Brett Diaz. left, and Master Sgt. Victor Follis in 1998. (U.S. Air Force photos)

Basic Military Training photos for Master Sgt. Brett Diaz. left, and Master Sgt. Victor Follis in 1998. (U.S. Air Force photos)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- Ulysses is a small town in Southwest Kansas, population approximately 6,000. In 1998, two Airmen-to-be left Ulysses behind for the promise of adventure with the U.S. Air Force.

It's not an uncommon odyssey for most Airmen, but what makes this story unique is that these two Airmen - now both recruiters - remain linked by the shared sense of home, assignments and achievement. The story of Master Sgts. Brett Diaz and Victor Follis speaks to why recruiters serve and how, as much as Airmen may lose sight of home in the rearview mirrors of their lives, they can always keep their friends.

Diaz and Follis have known each other since the early 1990s, growing up in a town where a bicycle could take you from one corner of your world to the other and still leave plenty of time for being a kid. Going into high school and, later, debate contests, the two were known as the "Men in Black" because of their dark suits and natural banter as debate partners (undefeated at the regional level).

It might have seemed a foregone conclusion that Ulysses was too small a place for them and the Men in Black did not disappoint. Both set their eyes on military service. Their recruiter was Staff Sgt. Scott Behan.

"I came home from my after-school job to find this recruiter in my living room," Follis said. "The guy drove almost five hours for a hotline lead - and no one had joined the Air Force from our school in years, so why he made the trip is nothing more than amazing."

Perhaps as a precursor of years to come, Follis also generated his first lead for another recruit: Brett Diaz.

"We did decide to join about the same time," Diaz said. "Victor joined earlier since he was already old enough as a senior. I had to wait until my 17th birthday so my parents could sign me away."

Follis joined the Delayed Entry Program in 1997 as a "soft book," but didn't ship until May 1998 - three days after his high school graduation. As a result, the two Airmen were in Basic Military Training at approximately the same time. When Diaz showed up at BMT, Follis was the dorm guard for his rainbow flight. In turn, Diaz paced Follis during physical training (Diaz also ran cross-country at Ulysses High School).

If the story ended here, it would have been like many hometown friends who joint the service, only to be pulled away by mission needs -- and it might have. Follis went into the aerospace propulsion field and Diaz went into supply. Different bases, different lives. But the two remained in touch and, six years later, Diaz suggested that Follis join him in a new career path: recruiting the next generation of Airmen.

"I joined recruiting because - again - Brett talked me into it," Follis said with a chuckle. "I signed up in the fall of 2004 and was at the schoolhouse in May 2005."

The Men in Black were together again, only now as Men in Blue. Diaz found a home with the 342nd Recruiting Squadron in San Antonio, Follis with the 338th RCS in Dayton, Ohio. Finding satisfaction as recruiters, the two worked hard, pacing each other on quotas, sharing advice and exchanging ideas in a demanding career field.

"Being a recruiter is never an easy job," Diaz said. "We're looking at our DEPpers and assessing their skills and the Air Force needs and finding the best candidate for the right jobs. Our skills in debate help us to encourage DEPpers to be honest with themselves and what they have to offer the Air Force, and sometimes what DEPpers need to accomplish beforehand to adapt to Air Force training. We're more than recruiters; we're coaches, and we have to look out for our DEPpers team."

Diaz and Follis' paths as recruiters remained parallel with possibly the most significant indicator occurring in December 2013. Diaz was promoted to master sergeant under the Stripes for Exceptional Performers program; Follis was STEP promoted the previous year while assigned to the 364th RCS.

"We both had, in my opinion, great parents and I think being raised in an environment that was hard and a good work ethic played a huge part in our STEP promotions," Follis said. "We were raised to look out for your neighbor and help each other. I used to think that a STEP was for those that couldn't make the cut, but there really is no truth to that idea. I only tested twice for master sergeant prior to my STEP, and I know Brett was somewhere in that ball park, too. I was really excited to hear about Brett's STEP. I knew he had finished his degree a few years earlier and knowing his work ethic, it really didn't surprise me."

Diaz said he was humbled by the promotion and was grateful to his team and Victor for their support.

"We were both raised to believe in hard work for its own rewards and to not expect any recognition," Diaz said. "This new stripe on my arm is awesome, but being a recruiter for the Air Force is the best, most rewarding job I could ever imagine."

Both friends expect their shared work ethic will continue to contribute to the recruiting mission: both plan to be behind the badge "for the long haul," said Follis. Diaz hopes to become a flight chief and Follis' goal is to become a senior trainer or work in marketing.

"Being a recruiter? There's nothing like it," Follis said. "But to share this wonderful job with your best friend? It's simply amazing. What are the odds?"