Commentary: Be a Mentor

  • Published
  • By Col. James Hurley
  • 315th Mission Support Group Commander
Winston Churchill said, "We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give."  For those of you who are or have been a mentor you understand the meaning of these words.    

I can still remember my first day, late in December 1982, at my first duty assignment in the 342nd Missile Security Squadron, Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana.  I had reported in and was standing at parade rest in front of my squadron commander's desk.  The captain welcomed me to the squadron, gave me a very brief outline of his expectations and my duties, then imparted to me this advice,  "Go find a good NCO, become his shadow, pick his brain and learn everything he knows, because that NCO will teach you what you needed to know to be a successful officer.  He was right.

Master Sgt.  Ed Keeney, my flight chief, became my mentor.  Ed was my teacher, coach, biggest critic and biggest fan.  I watched, listened and learned.  He watched, listened and would oftentimes pull me aside and provide feedback on my performance.  I learned many lessons at the knee of Ed Keeney but the one that continues to have the biggest impact on me dealt with mentorship.  We didn't call it mentorship back then, but that's what it was.  Ed used to continually admonish me to not focus on my own career but to identify the best performers within my unit and guide (mentor) them.  So that's what I have done.

Mentoring others is not only critically important to the health and success of an organization, it's rewarding.  Over the years I have mentored many Airmen -- enlisted and officer --and the greatest enjoyment I have experienced is watching one of my mentees succeed.   One famous writer said, "A true measure of your worth includes all the benefits others have gained from your success."  How true!

The Air Force has a mentoring program.  It's outlined in AFMAN 36-2643 and defines mentorship as "a relationship in which a person of greater experience and wisdom guides another person to develop both personally and professionally. "  The instruction contains good information, it has lots of do's and don'ts, expectation and guidelines, all of which are important.  However, what it doesn't talk about is that mentoring is more than just one person giving information to another, in my opinion to be a truly effective mentor you have to legitimately care for and value the person you are mentoring.  Ed Keeney cared for me, and I for him.  He wanted me to be successful and lead airmen in the manner he thought they should be lead. 

I would encourage every person who reads this short article to consider taking on a mentee.  If you are not at that stage of your personal and professional development yet, then make it a future milestone.  If you are a seasoned Airman -- officer or enlisted-- look around you, I promise there are individuals who would benefit from your guidance.  All airmen, enlisted and officer, need mentoring and should mentor others. 

One of my mentees called me last week and related to me how he was mentoring a young person in his organization; all I could do was smile.  Mentoring is a rewarding and life changing experience, so do it!

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