Become stronger links in the mission chain

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Bart Ellis
  • 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
Are you someone's mentor? It's not something we normally discuss. I am not talking about being a supervisor, being a mentor to someone is much more.

Webster's dictionary defines a mentor as a wise and trusted teacher or counselor. In addition to Webster's definition, I believe mentors must be admired.

In my opinion, we choose our own mentors. An immediate supervisor is in the best position to be a mentor, as this is where interaction occurs almost daily. Ideally, this is the best situation for both the mentor and mentee. I also believe there are different levels of mentorship dependent upon daily interaction. Some of those who I consider my mentors were not in my chain of command nor did I have daily contact with.

Have you heard this before: You need to "mentor" Sergeant Stratotanker into finishing his degree. I have, countless times, (finishing a degree is an example) used the term mentor (in these cases) as slang. We are confusing the word mentor with discuss or advise. Sergeant Stratotanker might take your advice but, if you are his mentor chances are he will follow through and finish the degree.

The challenge is how to get Sergeant Stratotanker to choose you as his mentor. We don't receive formal mentorship training; there is no class. It is something we must learn on our own. I think trust, time and admiration are the biggest building blocks in getting there. Maybe the best way to learn is to compare ourselves to those we consider to be our mentors. What did they do in order for you to accept them as a mentor? Learn from your experiences, do what they did. See how powerful a mentor can be. We're learning something from them and they don't even know.

I learned an important lesson from an awesome leader I've admired since I was an airman first class. I first met him on McChord's flightline; it was the typical cold and wet Washington weather while I was working to launch my aircraft on its cargo mission. We ran into a delay and the pilot came down from the flight deck and must have noticed I was somewhat nervous while he was talking to me. I was new to the Air Force and this was the first time I had to answer directly to a lieutenant colonel. I don't remember my exact comment or what the subject was but, I said something like "I'm not as important as you, Sir." He told me, "No one out here is more important than the other. We all have an important job to do and we can't do it without each other. The only thing different is the level of responsibility."

"Wow, I'm as important as a lieutenant colonel," I thought to myself. At first I thought it was just a pep talk but, the more I thought about it, how right he was. I have often reflected upon this conversation. This conversation left a lasting impression upon me and I have repeated his way of explaining importance to many people. It also made me realize how the mission is jeopardized if just one task is not done correctly or if one person does not perform as expected. Just like links in a chain, all have to be as strong or stronger as the next to keep holding the load.

I consider this man I met on the flightline to be one of my distant mentors, and I try to keep tabs on him. He won my respect and admiration back then because he took the time to explain something to me, a new Airman.

He was not in my chain of command then, but several years later he became my group commander and now, it was no surprise to me when he made similar comments during his recent video address to Airmen. That man I met, General Norton Schwartz stated "....everyone contributes. No one adds greater value to our collective mission than another."

We all have to work as a team to accomplish the mission. Improving ourselves and leading others to become better performers must be part of our job. It will greatly improve efficiency and get the mission accomplished. We will become stronger links in the mission chain.

Prepare and present yourself to be someone's mentor, be admired. Core values, professionalism, self-improvement, lead by example and learn from your mentors. By the is not important if someone does not tell you they consider you their mentor. You will know when they personally thank you for helping them achieve their goal, whatever it might be.