Many of the people in line at the Air National Guard Mobile Experience didn't quite look like typical military recruits. Set-up amid other vendors and demonstrations on the grounds of Red Bud Motocross in Buchanan during Saturday's motocross event, shaggy haircuts abounded, and -- for the men, at least -- shirts were optional.
But that certainly doesn't bother Tech Sgt. Norma Gillette, a recruiter with the Michigan Air National Guard who helps run the simulation.
"A lot of people have a preconceived notion of the military, but when you see us out here, not all of us are in uniform," Gillette said. "Somebody who walked by and thought, well, I've got a tattoo, I didn't think I could go in. Sure you can.
"It does bring in a lot of people that we normally would not have access to otherwise," Gillette said of the exhibition.
The Mobile Experience is designed to mimic the steps of joining the Air National Guard. The first challenge is physical -- visitors get to look at the fitness standards that must be met at boot camp, and then test themselves to see if they can meet them (those who don't wish to exert themselves can encourage/mock friends who do attempt pull-ups).
Boot camp graduates move on to technical school to learn the skills for one of the over 200 jobs available in the National Guard. This stage is represented by the medic's challenge, a game where the player must identify some of the supplies and tools that a medic might need on the job.
The "experience" is continued in a well air-conditioned, custom-built truck, where a simulated home kitchen in one room and a and mission command center in the other represent the dual roles of Air Guard men and women, who typically participate in military service one weekend a month and two weeks a year but hold civilian jobs the rest of the year.
While the Mobile Experience is designed to give the public a better idea of what the Air National Guard does, it's not a recruiting booth. Gillette and Tour Manager Shimain Rivera said that more than 300 people can go through the simulation in a day, but none will be pressured to sign up for the Air National Guard when they're finished.
"Obviously, this is not the best environment (to sign up)," Gillette said. "You're not able to sit down one-on-one. If you're really interested., we give our cards. When everything's settled down, give us a call."
The Mobile Experience will be making an appearance at every major MX Sports event because of the organization's partnership with the Air National Guard, as well as other large-scale events like air shows.
"Any time there's a community event, that's what we're here for,"Gillette said. "That's what we are, we're a part of the community. Yes, we're military, but we're here in our states first and foremost."
While the simulation was designed to be accessible to all sorts of people -- kids tend to enjoy the challenges, although they sometimes need help from parents or older siblings -- Rivera and Gillette said some people are surprised when they don't do all that well on the tasks.
"We try to show what the Air National Guard does, and we don't want it to be so easy," Rivera explained. "It's not a simple thing to do."