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One Airman’s take on mentorship

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, California -- “Mentorship.” It’s a word I’ve heard in military-speak since I enlisted. But what does it mean?


The Merriam-Webster dictionary says mentorship is when someone teaches or gives advice to a less experienced and often younger person.


Hmm, okay…


I heard there was even an Air Force instruction on mentorship, so I looked it up. It turns out there are a couple. One defines a mentor as “a trusted counselor or guide,” and another says, “Mentorship is a relationship in which a person with greater experience and wisdom guides another person to develop both personally and professionally.”


Alright... So, does this mean one mentor per person? Are there qualifications to be a mentor? What does “mentorship” really mean?


Here’s my take on it:


I had a bit of a complicated start in the Air Force. I started in the California Air National Guard and transferred to the Air Force Reserve not even a year later, but that’s another story. Anyway, it was rocky.


I’m now a senior airman, coming up on three years of enlistment. It took a lot of “mentoring” to get me through all the challenges I’ve had.


I would say two of my first Air Force mentors were my military training instructors in basic military training. As a brand new Air Force member, I looked up to them as they guided me in becoming an Airman.


I remember watching one of my female instructors as she marched my flight, wanting to mirror her and march as well as she did… and getting caught (and yelled at) for slightly turning my head by our team chief. Learning to march, my instructors were my inspiration. As I became an Airman, they became my mentors.


After basic military training and my transfer, I was assigned my first workplace supervisor; a staff sergeant who was previously assigned to a combat camera squadron. I knew I could learn a lot from her. As I learned about my new career field, she became another mentor.


When I finally went to technical training, I stayed in the dorms and was placed in a roommate situation with an Airman leader for our detachment. Honestly, it took a couple days to get used to each other and sharing space, but once we did, it was great.


She was closer to my age than to most of our peers and about halfway through the course I was just starting. Although she wasn’t able to help academically (schoolhouse rules), she did teach me about leadership. She also helped me get through living in Maryland in our off-duty time, with personal situations and even simply where to get good food off post. As we became friends, she became yet, another mentor.


So I guess those mentors were more experienced than me, but do mentors always have to be? I don’t think so.


My basic military training team chief, one of the people I still go to most when I need military-related advice or guidance, told me a mentor could be anyone, even someone in a different career field. With that, the mentor would most likely have little-to-no experience in my career field or may not know anything about it. So, asking this person a specific career field question might not be helpful. But my team chief isn’t in my career field and he’s one of my main go-to people. 


And what about a younger or even a lower-ranking Airman in an active duty shop? I see nothing stopping these people from guiding someone who is brand new on the job. And I can tell you from experience, age and rank have made no difference. There have been a few younger, lower-ranking Airmen that have given me excellent advice.

Why limit mentors to Air Force members?


One of my best friends served in the U.S. Navy a few years ago. Even though she wasn’t in the same branch, she understands military life and gives me advice whenever I get stuck. Add her to my mentor list.


How many mentors is that so far? I could keep going, but I’ll stop there.


Everywhere I have been, I’ve picked up guidance. It never mattered that some “mentors” were younger, lower rank or had less time-in-service than me.


To me, a mentor is someone who is helping another in the proper direction.


To me, a mentor can be anyone.