Airman Kelly Davis Has More Followers Than F-35A Demo Team, At No Added Cost to Air Force.
She has more Instagram followers than the Air Force’s new F-35 Demo Team. Her Instagram is followed by nearly as many people as the well-established Air Force Heritage Flight Instagram page. She has three times as many followers as the official USAF ROTC Instagram page. With 12,200+ followers on Instagram compared to 10,300 for the new, official U.S. Air Force F-35 Demo Team there are more eyes are on her page than the Air Force’s most expensive demo aircraft.
And she just may be the best lifestyle ambassador and recruiting asset the Air Force never planned.
Meet 22-year old USAF Senior Airman Kelly Davis from Santa Clarita, California. Senior Airman Davis is a Security Forces Member in the 86th Security Forces Squadron at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
“I decided to join the U.S. Air Force my senior year of high school after my dad mentioned the idea to me and I ran with the idea and decided to join. I did a lot of research on which branch and then came to the conclusion the U.S. Air Force best suited the lifestyle I wanted.” Davis told The Aviationist in an interview.
Senior Airman Davis has leveraged her supermodel good looks with judicious use of social media along with her depiction of life in the U.S. Air Force to create a value-added recruiting asset for the Air Force. During an era when some military branches are still trying to define how to best use social media as a recruiting and information asset, Senior Airman Davis has established what could be a viable recruiting asset on her own. She has also maintained standards for social media use that some military branches have struggled to even establish.
It’s difficult to track whether Airman Davis’ Instagram depiction of the Air Force lifestyle has inspired other women and men directly to join the U.S. Air Force, but it is also difficult to quantify the exact number of recruits the USAF gets from expensive, major public relations operations like the USAF Flight Demonstration Team, The Thunderbirds.
Airman Davis told theaviationist.com, “I definitely believe my social media posts influence people’s opinion about the USAF career path. I have had a lot of people reach out to me over Instagram to get more information about the military as well as certain career paths.”
According to a 2016 report, the Thunderbirds cost the Air Force about $35 Million per year. An Air Force Senior Airman like Kelly Davis earns about $25,100- $30,100 per year, plus the cost of her training, housing stipend, etc. Considering the social media impact Senior Airman Davis’ Instagram has based on followers alone, she may be one of the best promotional values the U.S. Air Force has.
But social media is often distorted. It tends to only portray the image its users want to project. The Aviationist asked Senior Airman Kelly Davis if her life is really like her posts on Instagram:
“My lifestyle on Instagram definitely does portray a lifestyle that includes travel, fun and not a lot of hard days in my life and career. I try to remain positive through the hard times because my life isn’t perfect and of course there is ups and downs but I do my best to get out and take advantage of the opportunities I have. The travel and fun are some of many reasons joining the military has been an amazing experience.”
If Senior Airman Davis has, in fact, created her own reality in her role as an Air Force Security Forces Member, that reality is a reflection of her constructive attitude about serving in the Air Force. It is also likely a reflection of her chain of command, and suggests positive things about the entire organization above her. There is a time-honored saying in the military, “There are no bad soldiers, only bad leaders”. In military terms, Senior Airman Kelly Davis’ effective use of social media has brought credit upon herself, her unit, her chain of command and the entire U.S. Air Force. And remember, we are talking about a 22-year old without military high school, ROTC or formal media coaching beyond the Air Force’s basic guidelines provided to every Airman. Kelly Davis just thought up her own social media narrative about the Air Force, and did it.
The Air Force got lucky in the case of Senior Airman Davis. They haven’t always been so lucky on social media. In January 2018, USAF Tech. Sgt. Geraldine Lovely posted a video to social media in which she complained about members of her unit, especially subordinates. Her online rant contained racial profiling in violation of Air Force policy. The video was shared on the “Air Force amn/nco/snco” Facebook page, a page with nearly a quarter million followers that has become a reliable source of insider information about the Air Force following an official March 2018 Air Force “social media reset”. In the gulf of information since the Air Force social media reset, the Air Force seemed to become less responsive to social media. As the public and military appetite for media continued to grow in the instant news era, the Air Force tried to slow things down. It didn’t work. At least not entirely. The Air Force created a news and public relations vacuum that was filled by reliable social media sources like “Air Force amn/nco/snco” on Facebook and by damaging ones like Tech. Sgt. Geraldine Lovely.
The Air Force suffered another media blow when it was revealed in November 2018 that Thunderbird commander Lt. Col. Jason Heard was relieved of command following a “risk- taking leadership style” and “aggressive physical contact towards his subordinate,” who was “an unnamed member of the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, on Sept. 11, 2017, at an Irish pub in National Harbor, Maryland” according to a report partially obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Air Force Times and written by journalist Stephen Losey.
By the end of 2018, after social media gag orders, a series of aircraft accidents, the Thunderbird leadership gaff and the January social media scandal, the Air Force needed someone like Senior Airman Kelly Davis to show the positive side of life in the U.S. Air Force. Recruiters were having an increasingly difficult time bringing enough qualified candidates. Members of the armed forces like Kelly Davis are likely helping to change that on their own initiative.
“As a member of the U.S. Air Force, I always take [peoples’ impression of the Air Force] into consideration when using social media. We represent the 1% and what we post not only represents ourselves but the military. As a woman in the military and in a career field with mainly guys, I would say the military was the best choice I have made. I would recommend other women joining because I have not only had the pleasure to work with amazing people but they have become a family of mostly brothers but more sisters would be great!”
Senior Airman Kelly Davis has been in the Air Force for three and a half years. She is currently beginning the process of retraining into a new career field within the Air Force to gain more experience and training. “When I get out of Active duty, I plan to move to the Guard or Reserves side to do the full twenty years in. I have aspirations to become a flight attendant or a realtor when I go Guard or Reserves as well.”
During our interview with Kelly Davis in late December 2018 and January 2019 we asked her to be entirely candid about her experiences in the U.S. Air Force, good and bad. Airman Davis finally told us, “It the best decision I have ever made and I have been so blessed to be able to have traveled and experienced everything I have.” It’s safe to say that if the U.S. Air Force had a few thousand more Airmen like Kelly Davis, the recruiting problem would take care of itself.