Turn the switch on

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Robert Mallets
  • 22nd Mission Support Group deputy commander
Each of us plays multiple leadership roles throughout our military careers. No matter the level of leadership, we always want to make a difference.

Whether that difference is made on the battlefield, for your squadron or for an individual Airman, we all want to know our efforts serve a greater purpose. Each of us can make a difference as a leader mentoring our young Airmen.

All Airmen join the Air Force for different reasons. Whether they see the military as a calling, a paycheck or an adventure, the military draws them to raise their hands, recite an oath and volunteer to serve this great nation.

I recited an oath as an enlisted Airman when I joined the Ohio Air National Guard to pay for college. I then transitioned to the active-duty Air Force because I needed a job and I was intrigued by the prospects of becoming an aviator.

As we all know, no one joins the military to get rich, but it is a steady paycheck with numerous opportunities to excel and travel. With all these positive advantages, I took the plunge and raised my hand a second time, only this time it was to attend Officer Training School instead of Basic Military Training.

After being "re-blued" at OTS, I was ready to take on the rigors of flight training. At that time, I had the strategic vision of almost six months and had no real plans beyond my initial commitment. I wanted to keep my options open and I was all about how cool it was to be an aviator and where my next temporary duty would take me.

I excelled as an aviator and became very comfortable with where I was at the time. I used the time to sit back, be the best at my job and stay out of the "line of sight" tasking beam of the director of operations or squadron commander.

Like many of you, my commanders and the "old" guys in the squadron routinely gave me advice at Commander's Calls about getting my advanced education and Professional Military Education done early, and also the importance of volunteering for the right jobs to set me up for the future.

To me, it was like my parents talking to me about being better at school. I knew I was supposed to do these things, but I still wasn't convinced I was going to make the Air Force a career, so why would I do more work for an uncertain future?

I was happy to fly under the radar and do my job as an aviator. Life was good. Why worry about all the things I needed to do to make major and beyond. I felt I had many years to complete these painful requirements.

So how did I get from being a short-sighted, young officer "flying under the radar," to a squadron commander and now deputy group commander?

What made the difference for me was a senior navigator taking the time to sit me down and ask me the tough questions about where I was in my Air Force career. He asked how I was doing with my advanced degree and Professional Military Education; what were my goals in my career and how I was going to reach my goals. Needless to say, I found a mentor - actually he found me, but remember back then it was all about me.

I really didn't have good answers to his questions, and for once, he would not let me answer, "I don't know," "It will happen," or "I'm really busy or TDY to much."

These are some of the same excuses I hear today when I pull an Airman or young officer aside and ask about their goals and aspirations. My mentor made me come up with a plan to not only get to the next rank and job, but beyond. His efforts and persistence slowly turned my "idea switch" to the "on" position, and the light bulb was suddenly illuminated. I finally understood that I needed to be about something bigger than myself. He changed my attitude toward the Air Force from being just a job and a paycheck, to a true calling to serve our nation.

With the help of my mentor, I started making strides to complete all the requirements to become more competitive and take on the right jobs. My mentor helped me get those right jobs, and my career began to snowball from there. It's amazing that when you start taking an interest in your own career and know what it takes to reach your goals, you actually do what is necessary. If it wasn't for my mentor and the time he spent helping me with my goals, who knows where I might be now.
What does all this mean to you?

Each of you is in one of two categories: either you are someone in need of a mentor or you are someone who should serve as a mentor. Either way, we need to ensure our Airmen have a mentor. This means taking a personal interest in an Airman's future and taking the time to ask those tough questions.

For those in a position to be a mentor, share your knowledge and experience to motivate our Airmen. Have the best information and give them an occasional kick in the pants to motivate them to be about something bigger and better than themselves. Your investment in their future will pay huge dividends for the Air Force because it builds our next generation of mentors.

If you are unsure of what you want out of the Air Force, and you can't answer any of the questions about your future, I urge you to seek out a mentor you trust and respect. Ask this person what they think you can do to better and then find out what direction you should take to accomplish your goals. That person will most likely be flattered that you chose them as a mentor, and will work harder to give you the best advice they can provide.

Our Air Force needs all Airmen serving in a position of influence to take that time to be a mentor, so turn on an Airman's "idea switch" and see the "light bulb of awareness" start to glow. There are few greater feelings than seeing an Airman you've mentored "get it," and move on to do great things in our Air Force. I charge each of you to take the challenge and serve as a mentor for another Airman - you won't regret it.