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NEWS | Aug. 22, 2008

Unforgettable mentoring

By Lt. Col. Michael S. Lightfoot 1st Helicopter Squadron commander

I spent some time as an instructor pilot at Undergraduate Pilot Training at Columbus AFB, Miss. For those of you who have never spent time in northern Mississippi, there are many days where the low ceilings and heavy rain makes you wonder why the Air Force would ever put a pilot training base in that region. It was during one of these days when one of our Air Force Reserve instructor pilots gathered up our fresh-faced lieutenants and provided them with an unforgettable mentoring session. He openly and honestly shared his experience and wisdom. While his words were originally meant for a very specific audience, I believe they have value for all of us. A summary of his remarks are as follows: 

Choose your path in the military not based on what you think is glamorous or what you think will get you ahead, but choose what you love. Air Force pilots still fill out "dream sheets" in pilot training. Although the Air Force has the final say; their desires are a major factor in their career track. Most of you have made your choice, but you may have the opportunity to influence your next assignment or even cross-train at some point. If you love what you do, you'll be a much happier person and we'll be a better military. 

Take care of your finances. Start saving money early and take a disciplined approach to your spending habits. If you are thrifty in your youth, you will have many more options as you get older. Most of us will move on to a second career after the military. The money you save now may be the launching pad to your next career or the nest egg that supports your final retirement. 

Take care of your family. Even if you are single, you have family somewhere that cares about you and will need your attention at some point in your career. Remember to thank your family often, not just at your going-away function. There is a phenomenal amount of stress and separation over the span of a career, don't add to it by always being at work. Children grow up so quickly and time with our parents and other loved ones is so precious. We have high expectations for your service, but be sure to balance that with time with your family. When you go TDY or deploy, make sure that you have a plan for those you leave behind. Be true to your family and be disciplined with your behavior; avoid the temptations the world will throw at you while you are away from home. 

Take care of your crew. For the non-flyers, this would include those you work with every day and those who deploy with you. These people are your family away from home. For the officers especially, take care of your enlisted personnel. Keep your relationship professional and remember that you are the leader and role model for others. 

Take care of yourself. Make sure you are providing your supervisor with good information for your performance reports and make sure you get any decorations you deserve. Work with your supervisor to make sure you are getting the right jobs and schools to progress professionally. Keep personal copies of critical information: performance reports, decorations, personnel actions, etc. Also take care of yourself by not burning bridges. The military is a small world and you will be amazed at the people you will cross paths with in the future. On a more positive note, stay in touch with friends, these will be the folks who help guide and support you through the tough times. 

Always keep your chin up. Everyone will have a point in their career where they feel like they've drawn the short straw, where a supervisor or "the system" worked against them. If you keep your military bearing and press through the challenge, you will come through on the other side just fine.