By Staff Sgt. Jacob Barreiro
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
(Editor’s note: this is the second in a series of articles that will provide young enlisted Airmen and supervisors with advice to help make their careers in the military a success.)
The act of mentoring and being mentored are rooted throughout history and extends its influence from contemporary culture back to the ancient Greeks. Mentors and their protégés have left an undeniable stamp on culture and have impacted history throughout the ages. For example Plato, Socrates’ protégé, wrote down his mentor’s lessons, which made both scholars famous in the future. Often the mentoring process results in a symbiotic relationship that not only benefits the protégé but the mentor as well.
Mentoring is a staunch tradition in the military and one that many successful Airmen have become acquainted with. The Air Force is more than an occupation for many of its members. The life of an Airman can encompasses an entire sub-culture comprised of diverse people tasked with a variety of missions where success or failure has the ability to influence the entire globe. The second paragraph of the Airman’s creed states that Airmen uphold “A Tradition of honor, and a legacy of valor.” How else can the future leaders of Airmen hope to uphold these standards if they don’t absorb and learn from leaders and peers?
“Mentoring is important because it gives you the opportunity of learning from people who’ve already experienced different things throughout their careers,” said Chief Master Sgt. James Morris, 19th Airlift Wing command chief master sergeant. “People who have made it through the ranks and achieved success ... you can learn from those. Mentoring gives you an opportunity to gain insight and experience before experiencing them yourself.”
Although a mentor can share their success stories, protégé’s are just as likely to learn from people who have experienced hardships or failures, said the command chief. Additionally, good mentors may give young Airmen the occasional push.
“I have had certain key people throughout my career that have grabbed me by the back of the neck and put me in positions that I would not have been in on my own,” the command chief said. “For instance, I was sitting in a private organization meeting one day and they needed a treasurer and my first sergeant volunteered me to be the treasurer.”
The senior enlisted member of the 19th Airlift Wing said that he never would have volunteered for the position personally, but learned a lot from the experience that helped him later on in his career, and he was grateful for the push.
“Mentors sometimes have to give you the cold hard facts,” said the command chief. “If you’re not going down the right course, you may not always like what the mentor has to say, but if it’s a good mentor, they will tell you the truth to get you on the path that you need to be on.”
While Airmen should seek guidance and leadership from successful people who have risen in the ranks, mentoring can be done at any level. For Staff Sgt. Adam Mangin, 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron flight administrator, being a good protégé relates directly to being a good mentor.
“I had an awesome mentor from my first two bases, I actually had the same rater” said Mangin. “He was a guy I always felt like I could call if I had a problem. He was my rater when I was an airman basic and he was a staff sergeant and I saw him make tech sergeant and master sergeant his first time so he was a good example for me too. He was always the go to guy for everybody, and that is something I strive to be in my career field.”
Having a positive influence and excellent mentor left a positive impact on his career, said Mangin. Although he has learned nearly as much from negative influences.
“My sponsor at my first base ... he emailed me back once out of the six or seven times I tried to contact him,” said Mangin. “He picked me up at the airport, which was where I worked, didn’t really show me around the base, didn’t tell me anything. He picked me up ... dropped me off in my room without furniture or supplies.”
Mangin said that sitting solitary in his empty dorm room, with only his luggage, gave him an early lesson in avoiding negative influences.
“I figured out right away I don’t need to be following this guy around,” said Mangin.
Mangin said that he had to take it upon himself to find positive influences and mentors who would steer him on the right path.
Getting Airmen on the right path may not always be easy, but mentors and protégés do not have to have a complicated relationship, the command chief said. Airmen just need to seek out mentors who have similar career goals and have taken similar paths.
“For young Airmen, the first thing that I would tell them is to think about what they want to do with their lives and with their careers,” said the command chief. “Then seek out a person who’s gone down that path and been successful when they’ve gone down that path.”
Airmen can find mentors anywhere, said the command chief. The only necessary trait of a mentor is to be straightforward and honest.
Mangin said that the most important trait of being a good mentor is simple: availability.
“Make sure you’re always available, always approachable,” said Mangin. “Definitely having the open door policy so that somebody, if they have a problem, they can come to you and you can prepare them.
Preparing Airmen for facing challenges doesn’t necessarily mean babying them or holding their hand, said Mangin. Airmen need to be taught and given the tools to face challenges on their own. If they aren’t, the consequences can be disastrous.
“If you aren’t available to your Airmen they might be unprepared,” said Mangin. “If they can’t ask their mentor, their supervisor ‘What do I need to do?’ then they won’t know what to do. Especially with something like an inspection, if they don’t know where to find the answer there will be consequences.”
Being proactive is sage advice for mentors and protégés alike, said Mangin.
“Don’t sit around and wait for someone to learn from,” the flight admin said. “You can look to people in your own work section or back home; one of my best mentors is my band director from high school. I still go to him for advice.”
The command chief said Airmen should keep an open mind when looking for mentors to learn from. Teachers can be found anywhere; the most important things are if they will provide honest assessment and successful tips to their younger protégés.
“A mentor doesn’t have to be a person from a specific career field, it doesn’t have to be a specific rank, it’s just somebody who has done what you want do successfully,” said the command chief.