Mentors are priceless resources
By Senior Airman Jessica Andrews, 302nd Aeromedical Staging Squadron unit public affairs representative
/ Published August 23, 2006
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFRC) -- There was this one UTA where it seemed I was being pulled in every direction. I remember it clearly because it was during the Christmas holiday season. I tend to be overly ambitious, and had volunteered to set things up and pick things up on and off base, in addition to doing my regular duties at the unit. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Here I am, setting up this tree on what's supposed to be a joyous occasion, and I am holding back tears because I don't know how I'm going to get everything done! That's when a master sergeant pulled me aside and shared some advice she had found valuable some years ago.
One of the things she told me was to learn to say "no" - how to say no and when to say no. She told me, the Airman 1st class, that she could completely relate and the importance of balance. She also gave me her cell phone number and e-mail address and is someone I come to now and then with questions, or just for a pep talk. She holds a different job than I do, and I didn't even know her before that day. That's the thing. You never know when you're going to find your mentors.
The chief in my unit and I were talking about mentoring just the other day. It's a subject dear to both of our hearts. We both wrote articles this month as a way to express our standpoint from opposite ends of the rank spectrum. As a first term Airman, learning from others has been the saving grace of my new life in the military. Mentoring is uniquely more important in the military than anywhere else. Sure, it's good to have someone's career path to look up to, but in the military, we really depend on those little details for career advancement. I could go on and on about my high school math teacher, but if I messed up in math class, it wasn't punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Everything is important in the Air Force. It's all taken under consideration, from the way you look, to the way you do your job and everything in between.
It's overwhelming to step into a new job on a new base right out of tech school. We wear a low rank on our sleeves compared to everyone else and we're intimidated to ask questions - and believe me there are many. What we are told in school, is to look to our supervisor for guidance and support. I think that's important, because they understand our career field, but the people I have learned the most from are those who helped me indirectly. There are some officers and enlisted who just exude leadership. They are the ones who approach me just because they search my face and see that something is on my mind, or that I may have questions. Not only do they care about how I'm doing, but they do everything they can to help. I'm always appreciative when someone not only gets something resolved for me, but they tell me how they did it so I can solve the problem myself the next time.
A mentor may not even be aware that they fill that role for you. It may not be someone with whom you have constant contact. It could be someone who takes 10 minutes to explain something you have been trying to find the answer to for months. It could be someone who seems to always be in control in the midst of chaos.
With everyone I come in contact with, I want something from them, even if it's what not to do. I want to encourage those brand new to the Air Force to know that mentors are everywhere, and not just necessarily in their own unit. You have resources at your disposal, use them. You may be pleasantly surprised that people are very willing to help you and share their experiences. From uniforms to paperwork, ask, ask, ask. If someone is busy, ask someone else. You cannot be a successful member of the AF if you're not always keeping your eyes and mind open to those who can help you. They're out there. The Air Force is a family of amazingly talented people eager to see their colleagues succeed.