Are you my mentor?

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

If you’ve ever had to ask this question, the answer was probably “no.”

We know what mentors are:  respected, experienced and trusted advisors we go to when we need guidance.  The good ones even come to us when we don’t realize we need them.  But how do we get our mentors?  Early on, it’s often our first line supervisors or maybe a sharp co-worker.  As we progress in rank and experience and realize the Air Force is bigger than just our work center, we begin to seek out those who have attained what we hope to, or those who have experienced what we are currently experiencing. Some of us just happen to hear an awesome speech, or read a great article, and decide we want that person as our mentor.  Whatever avenue leads you to your mentor, the fact is that it’s “your” mentor, a decision you make.

                A fellow SNCO in one of our units began assigning mentors to Airmen.  Meaning well, this SNCO only wanted to ensure the junior airmen were being taken care of.  There was no discussion between the mentor and mentee on this decision - just a quick note that Master Sgt. Johnson was now Staff Sgt. Jones’ mentor.  Problems occurred of course:  1) they didn’t know each other or 2) there was no respect or 3) the mentor didn’t know how or want to mentor, etc.  Instead of helping and motivating the airmen, it caused a decline in morale and duty performance.  Something as personal and meaningful as a mentoring relationship should be agreed upon by both mentor and mentee.  Mutual respect, understanding and willingness are paramount in this relationship, or it will not work.

                My first mentor was my supervisor.  I was a fresh one-striper out of tech school and I worked for an “old school” senior master sergeant maintenance superintendent. He was well respected and feared by nearly all the maintainers in the hangar.  What was telling was that no matter how feared he was, his office was never empty of people seeking his advice and opinion.  I was also one of them; though we were different AFSCs, he understood my career field and set me on the path to excellence. He mentored me every day, whether I wanted it or not, although I likely needed it.  When he made chief master sergeant, he was very humbled, a trait I also took great note of.  He was the first chief I encountered; he was stern yet encouraging and humble, and I knew right then I wanted to be like him.  When I made chief master sergeant, I looked him up (a civilian now still leading and mentoring our airmen) and thanked him profusely for his early guidance and inspiring me to be better.  Thank you Chief Master Sgt. Francis X. Costello!

Though we didn’t have much in common, I chose him as my mentor, and he gladly obliged.  Mentoring is a privilege.  Yes, we are charged with mentoring junior airmen and officers; but we are not assigned these airmen to mentor.  If we’re good, they’ll seek us out.  That is the privilege.  It is then our duty to ensure we do right by them, for them alone.  Mentees, you should never have to ask, “are you my mentor?”  You should already know.