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NEWS | June 5, 2009

Mentoring for the future

By Master Sgt. Renard Barnes 1st Airlift Squadron First Sergeant

When the commander informed me about writing an article for the Capital Flyer, I began to reminisce. I previously wrote a "From the Top" article about five years ago when I was the acting first sergeant for the former 89th Medical Support Squadron. I discussed 'getting out of your comfort zone.' Instead of choosing a topic to write about, I canvassed my Airmen about what they would like me to discuss. The vast majority wanted me to discuss mentoring.

Mentoring has occurred in the Air Force long before anyone decided to make it a discussion topic in professional military education forums or write about it in Air Force Pamphlet 36-2241, "Professional Development Guide." The PDG defines mentoring as "a relationship in which a person with greater experience and wisdom guides another person to develop both personally and professionally."

As I look back on my 25-plus year career, I see where I have been mentored. My first supervisor showed me the basics of my medical technician job, and initiated my five skill-level upgrade training. My next supervisor in the intensive care unit provided the tools necessary for an NCO in charge. The learning curve changed significantly. I had to supervise people and make the decisions, but I was not alone in the process. There were senior NCOs who helped.

Regardless of where I worked, there was someone who was a phone call, e-mail, or an office visit away that could help guide me through all situations. Even as a master sergeant, someone was steering me in a direction where I would be successful.

While all of this was happening, I noticed that Airmen junior to me were coming to me for advice. I realized that I had knowledge they needed and wanted. So just as my mentors gave me the tools to succeed, I gave the younger Airmen the same help. Many of these Airmen are very successful today, and that makes me feel good because I helped them achieve their goals.

I have two challenges I would like to make: The first challenge is to all the commanders, chiefs, first sergeants, section chiefs and supervisors. We are in key positions where our decisions impact others. We owe it to our Airmen to provide mentorship when they seek it, and even when they don't. An additional part to this is for the NCOs and senior NCOs; we need to remember that young company grade officers need mentoring from us as well. That lieutenant or captain that comes to your office may be the next squadron commander making decisions about the enlisted people under your charge. Ask squadron commanders about their interactions with senior NCOs, they will tell you that they value the input from the senior NCOs both as young officers and as commanders. When those young Airmen come to your door, call you or stop you on the street to ask your advice, help them out as best as you can. Believe me, your Airmen will appreciate it and remember you for being there for them.

My other challenge is for ALL Airmen. Mentoring is a two-way process. Take control of your career, and seek out that experienced leader. Airmen have to want to be mentored, but you don't have to wait for someone to take you under his or her wing. If someone has knowledge that will benefit you in the future, then take the time and talk to that person. You may not realize it, but the person you're seeking knowledge from was previously in your position. Leaders do not forget where they came from and how they got there. Regardless of your rank or status, if you want to enhance your knowledge, take the time to seek out that mentor to guide you.

As I get closer to my retirement, I look back to where I was and where I am now. I know I would not be where I am without my mentors. I never envisioned being a first sergeant when I came in the Air Force, but when I made master sergeant, my shirt took me under her wing and guided me toward the first sergeant career field. Now I'm a first sergeant, and I have several people come to me for guidance. I strive to give them all the help I can because I was in their shoes, and I don't forget where I came from. Remember, the Airman you guide today may be the next first sergeant, command chief, commander or even a higher position in the future. We need to be there for our Airmen and continue to better ourselves. I know the Air Force is in good hands because we groom our future leaders to take charge and elevate the Air Force to the next level.