Airman mentoring Airmen- Give it a Try!

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Christopher Rogowski
  • 92nd Operations Support Squadron Commander
A number of years ago (more than I care to admit), in a different unit and a different airplane, yours truly was a brand new butter bar fresh out of pilot training getting ready to head out on my first overseas deployment. I was excited and trying my hardest to make a good impression on the rest of the crew as we ran through our preflight checks on the flight deck. At the appropriate time, the aircraft commander began his briefing and discussed what he wanted each crewmember to do in the event of an in-flight emergency. As we went about our duties, the mood was relaxed and the rest of the crew made frequent jokes with each other. Wanting to prove myself as "one of the gang," I asked in a semi-smart-alecky way: "Now wait a minute. You briefed that the aircraft commander is running the show; the flight engineer is running the electrical, fuel and hydraulics panels; and the navigator is controlling the navigation equipment and making sure we don't get lost; what the heck does that leave for me?" That's when I felt a sharp smack on my shoulder and the flight engineer, a gruff-old master sergeant, pointed at the landing gear handle and said, "See that, co-pilot? That's all yours, buddy!" 

That got a roar of laughter from the rest of the crew and introduced me to one of my earliest examples of mentoring in the Air Force. It probably wasn't the textbook definition of mentorship, but one that's stuck with me all these years.
Remembering that story led me to see what the dictionary had to say regarding mentorship.I found this: "A developmental relationship in which a more experienced person helps a less experienced one." 

This got me thinking about what an incredibly important concept this is in an organization such as ours. Mentorship is crucial in developing the future leaders of our Air Force. There are a ton of things vital to how we operate that you won't find in any syllabus or technical order, and the only way they get passed on is for someone to take the time to mentor the less experienced folks. 

Everywhere you look around the Air Force, you can see positive examples of mentorship and it's truly a sight to behold. Earlier this year I was deployed and at the start of one of our sorties a non-commissioned officer was teaching a young Airman how to marshal an aircraft out of the chocks for the first time; last week I was up in the control tower observing some of Fairchild's finest, newest Airmen learning the ropes of the traffic pattern--all under the watchful eye of the tower supervisors; and it was just the other day that I saw a captain patiently explaining to a youngster why it was so dangerous to be driving so quickly through base housing. 

The key to all of this is the mentor's willingness to take some extra time out of their day and share what they know. Looking back, some of the lessons that had the most impact on me are the times when the person showing me something wasn't obligated to stop and teach me a useful skill. They did so anyway and that's incredibly important. I'm guilty of this from time to time, but how often do we find ourselves saying, 'it'll be quicker or easier if I just do it myself," instead of taking a second to teach someone else a valuable skill? 

I, personally, am resolving to throttle back and take the time to mentor someone the next time I catch myself trying to do it the expedient way.
Mentoring takes on different forms. Sometimes it's an involved and lengthy process; sometimes it's just a quick word of advice; sometimes it's a supervisor to employee; and other times it's a parent to child, and so on. I've been helped along tremendously through the years by the mentorship and good advice of others and, hopefully, I've been able to pass some of that along where I could. And you don't have to be an NCO, an officer, authority figure or older than someone to mentor. Anyone can do it. All you need is some time and a caring spirit. Give it a try!