JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
National Mentoring Month, an annual observance in January, focuses on the role volunteer mentors play in shaping America’s young people and helping them achieve their full potential.
It’s a role the Air Force takes seriously.
Air Force Manual 36-2643, which provides guidance for the service’s mentoring program, calls mentoring “an essential ingredient in developing well-rounded, professional and competent future leaders” and “an inherent responsibility of leadership.”
Starting early in their careers and continuing throughout their service, all Airmen – officers, enlisted members and civilians – are encouraged to seek the advice and encouragement of mentors and to later draw on their experiences to serve as mentors.
In addition to one-on-one discussions with mentors and group sessions in settings such as the First Term Airmen Center, Airman Leadership School and professional enhancement seminars, Airmen have access to mentoring opportunities through the Air Force’s MyVector web-based mentoring network.
Mentoring positively impacts the Air Force mission by improving morale and unit cohesion, enhancing professional and personal development, and increasing mastery of Air Force competencies, said Master Sgt. Deogracias Manosca, Air Force Personnel Center Mission Readiness Training Program manager.
“I feel the greatest benefit is how mentoring sustains the Air Force mission,” he said. “Even the greatest leader has to close their Air Force chapter one day; by being an effective mentor to as many mentees as possible perpetuates the mentoring cycle, helping ensure we continue to fly, fight and win into the far and foreseeable future.”
Senior Master Sgts. Lloyd Stinson, Joint Base San Antonio Fire Emergency Services deputy fire chief at JBSA-Randolph, and Thomas Burchett, Air Education and Training Command Inspector General logistics inspector, said mentors are the voices of experience.
“You have somebody who’s been down that road – someone who’s been there and done that,” Stinson said. “I try to tell younger NCOs and Airmen things I wish I’d known at that time in my career, things that can prevent them from making bad mistakes.”
A mentor is someone Airmen can turn to for guidance, Burchett said.
“I had someone who directed me,” he said. “A mentor is someone who will point them in the right direction. It gives Airmen an informal forum to address the issues and anxieties they may be having.”
In addition to guiding Airmen when they are struggling, mentors can also help them broaden their horizons.
Stinson, who serves as the JBSA-Randolph Top III mentorship committee lead, said he tells Airmen to expand their roles beyond their career fields.
“I tell them to be a part of professional organizations and to serve as volunteers,” he said. “There’s learning and growth in that.”
Burchett, who regularly serves as a mentor during Airmen’s Week at basic military training, said MyVector can be a starting point for mentoring opportunities.
MyVector allows mentees to manage their career development with guidance from a mentor. They are also able to invite participants to serve as mentors, select mentors and chat with them online.
“Social media is big now,” Burchett said. “MyVector is a social media avenue that allows people to reach out for a mentor. It’s a great start for the process and a great place to centralize information.”
However, Burchett prefers face-to-face interaction.
“For me, it’s still all about talking with someone over the phone or in-person,” he said.
Air Force units at all levels play a vital role in mentoring. AFPC’s Professional Development Council is one example.
“The PDC is AFPC’s answer to providing mentoring and professional development resources to its population, from the individual to the organizational level,” Manosca said. “Staffed by officers, enlisted members and civilians to represent the diverseness of AFPC, the PDC plans, hosts and coordinates mentoring and professional development events across internal and local organizations. Each month it focuses an event on a different segment of the workforce.”
Recent activities include a generational leadership seminar and an Air Force Credentialing Opportunities On-Line – also known as AF COOL – and Professional Management Professional certification briefing, as well as monthly Technology, Entertainment and Design Talk Tuesdays, he said.
Career assistance advisors are another mentoring resource.
“As a career assistance advisor, mentoring is my full-time job,” said Senior Master Sgt. Sarah Sullivan, JBSA-Lackland base career assistant advisor. “I am responsible for organizing professional development opportunities across JBSA. The professional development committee falls under my purview, and we team up with senior NCOs across the base to mentor our replacements. We are actively involved in mentoring students at ALS and through courses like John C. Maxwell’s Leadership Gold curriculum.”
Sullivan said she has benefited from the experience of senior NCOs.
“Everything I know I learned from a mentor before me,” she said. “It is our duty to pass that knowledge on to the next generation. My goal is help Airmen become better, faster and stronger than I was or am today.”
Master Sgt. Elliott Velez, JBSA-Randolph career assistance advisor, said professional enhancement seminars provide a formal mentoring setting where company grade officers, NCOs and Airmen E-4 and below learn from their superiors.
Aside from his duties as a CAA, Velez mentors a few Airmen.
“These are Airmen who want to talk about their careers or are having trouble in their lives,” he said. “I try to help them by relating my experiences and telling them how resiliency plays a part in overcoming their problems.”
Mentoring can play a role in accelerating an Airman’s development, Sullivan said.
“Mentoring gets us where we need to be – fast,” she said. “One of my friends just made chief master sergeant at 15 years time-in-service. She was mentored from the time she was an airman first class and throughout her career.
“Couple that with motivation and you have one fast-burning Airman,” Sullivan said. “Speed is not everything, but mentors keep us on track to avoid wasting time and energy in a spin.”
Serving as a mentor brings great satisfaction and rewards, Burchett said.
“You become successful by serving others,” he said. “You have to be more of a giver than a taker. The people you mentor will want to work harder for you.”