Mentorship was, and is, absolutely critical in my development from junior Airman to SNCO. I have had different mentors throughout the different phases of my career and they all played an important role. When the word mentorship is mentioned, a lot of people instantly think of sitting down with their supervisor and getting formal face-to-face mentoring. To me, mentorship is much deeper than that; it is all encompassing.
Fifteen years ago I entered the Air Force at the suggestion of my favorite high school teacher. I grew up in Tampa, Florida, and by the time I was 18 years old I had developed many bad behaviors. I was in desperate need of mentoring and guidance, and I think subconsciously that I was reaching out to the Air Force to find what I needed while serving my country. I walked into the recruiter’s office and off I went several months later to Joint Base San Antonio for the best six and a half weeks of my life.
Now as a SNCO who has been in the service for 15 years, I try to pass on to the men and woman who work for me the things that helped me develop as I rose through the ranks. I do my best to be an example because I know how critical it is to “walk the walk.”
It was mentorship that caught me at a fork in the road and changed the trajectory of my career when I was a young Airman in need of the correct development. There was a certain chief master sergeant who stands out for me and he is still one of my mentors today as he prepares for retirement himself.
It was during my assignment as an instructor that I met Chief Cimenski. Among other things, he was always on time, always had a sharp uniform, and always at formations. He built credibility with me not because he had to, but because that was who he was as a person.
Because he believed in me, he entrusted me with tasks that were probably meant for someone with more rank. He always gave me face-to-face feedback. He was always approachable and interested in my life and what I had going on. He would tell me the things that I needed to do to grow and develop as a SNCO. Most importantly, he would tell me when I was making a poor choice. He wasn’t a jerk about it and I always received the message, which was not an easy task to achieve at times.
Fast forward to the present—I always look back on that pivotal time in my career. I have had many other mentors since then and they are always a phone call away if I need them for anything or if I have a question that requires advice. Again, today I am in a position to pass on the things that were so important in my development to the folks that I come in contact with on a daily basis. I try to get to know everyone I work with, I give informal feedback daily and hold professional development sessions. I also do my best to make sure I am not above any tasks that I give out, and I listen to feedback.
Hopefully I can impact someone else the same way I was impacted by the Chief years ago. I think that with the challenges of the new generations coming in to serve, being a mentor and being mentored is even more critical now because there is a communication gap. To enable us to continue to be the greatest Air Force, we must continue to embrace the importance of mentoring and find new ways to do it effectively.