(WDTN) — When disaster strikes, the Ohio National Guard is there; not only do the guardsmen and women respond to federal missions, they are also on the ground in local communities.

Just like the rest of the country, finding people to join the National Guard has not been easy. According to the National Guard Bureau, the Guard is 9,000 members short of its recruiting goal for this fiscal year.

In Ohio, the National Guard is able to fulfill all of its missions, but they did have a difficult recruiting year.

Senior Master Sgt. Michael Shaefer is the Recruiting Retention Senior Enlisted Leader for the Ohio Air National Guard.

“We have around 5,000 Airmen in the Ohio Air National Guard, and typically we lose about 10 percent a year. So we have a 90 percent retention rate. So our normal typical goal in a year is to put in 500 a session so that we replace what we lose. This year, we’re going to hit about 320 and lose around 525,” Master Sgt. Shaefer explained.

According to Major General John Harris, the Adjutant General and Commander of the Ohio National Guard, there are less people in the recruitable population.

“If we look at a typical 17 through 24-year-old, which is what we consider the recruitable population, 70 percent of that population is not qualified for military service,” Maj. Gen. Harris said.

Maj. Gen. Harris said they are not qualified because of either a medical limitation, or an educational shortfall. He said another part of the problem is less people joining the military in general, with only one percent of the population serving.

“That family connection, ‘I serve because my mother or father served.’ That tendency to encourage family members to join the military. We’re seeing a reduction and that’s simply because a smaller and smaller portion of the population is serving each year,” Maj. Gen. Harris said.

To make sure the Ohio National Guard can continue to fulfill its missions, the Guard is trying to get more creative with recruiting. The Air National Guard created an Ambassador Program where airmen from the Mansfield unit can go around the state to talk about why they joined the group.

“We’re allowing some of those unit members to go out and tell their story, raise public awareness,” Senior Master Sgt. Shaefer said.

They are also trying to spread the word about their benefits. The Ohio National Guard will pay 100 percent college tuition, and that now includes trade certifications. They also offer healthcare, bonuses, and workforce development.

“For a part time job, we’re paying you to go to school full time. So you can do all kinds of things in life, and work with us part time. So it’s just a great way to serve,” Senior Master Sgt. Shaefer said.

It is also the incentives that cannot always be measured that are the biggest selling points when recruiting: learning leadership skills, being part of a team, and making an impact on the local community.

“That’s the thing that really sets us apart from any other component, is that National Guard is that local connection with the community, being able to serve your local citizens right where you live,” Senior Master Sgt. Shaefer explained.

To learn more about the Ohio National Guard and get in touch with a recruiter, click here.