By Lt. Col. Ted Rhodes
19th Medical Support Squadron Commander
This past week, two events occurred that caused me to pause and reflect upon my time in service. First was the 31st anniversary of when I first became an Airman, and the second was conducting interviews for a new squadron superintendent, as the current superintendent will be retiring this summer after 26 years of service.
In 1982, the military was in the middle of the Cold War and Vietnam was fresh on everybody’s mind, having ended less than 10 years earlier. The current enlisted and officer appraisal system was not in place, there were no computers in the work center and e-mail was still more than 10 years in the future. In addition, there were many more Airmen in the service and many more bases that are only a footnote in history now.
When the new appraisal system was published in the late 1980’s to early 1990’s, one of the new features was mandatory official feedback during the appraisal period. This change created an environment where the senior members, both NCO and Officers, were required to provide feedback to the young Airmen. Those young Airmen in the 1980’s, are now our senior leaders who were able to grow from the experience of their senior NCOs and officers.
In 1992, I separated from active duty only to return nine-and-half years later. When I returned there was Internet and computers in every work center and e-mail had grown to the primary means of communication. Although I appreciate everything technology can do to enhance communication, getting the message out to many people very quickly; I often think people spend too much time at the computer.
Instead, they should be out walking and talking to the people who are doing the mission (mentoring). I wonder how many people are just “going through the motions” in providing critical formal feedback to Airmen, junior NCOs and officers. The formal feedback is the minimum expectation; true feedback is immediate, relevant and continuous and should occur outside the formal feedback process.
While I was working in the civilian workforce, when we needed a new staff member to assume a vacant leadership position we had the ability to advertise the job, interview and hire anybody who would fill the leadership role. If we didn’t find a qualified candidate after the first round, we continued until a candidate was hired. It’s critical for the Air Force to grow futures leaders, as we do not have the ability to hire a senior NCO or senior officer from the public sector; mentoring is the process for this to happen.
Today’s leaders must mentor Airmen to be leaders not only for today but for all the generations to come. This is what our country needs.