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Commentary | Sept. 29, 2006

‘Mentorship’ is not a buzzword

By By Maj. Sean Kern 82nd Communications Support Squadron

Team, 

As new terms are introduced into our Air Force culture, there is a tendency to overuse them, reducing their impact and value. I believe "mentorship" fits into this category. 

Today, everybody is expected to be a mentor and be mentored. Whether you are military, civil service or part of the contractor force, mentorship is a vital part of the workplace. But what does it mean to be a mentor or be mentored? It's a complex relationship, but I'd like to share some personal experiences I had with my first Air Force mentor. I hope these few thoughts lead you along the path towards becoming an effective mentor. 

My first mentor was Senior Master Sgt. Steve Foxx. I met him when I was a young Airman in '93. He wasn't my immediate supervisor, but that's not a mentorship requirement. Neither is being an organizational leader, although he was that as well. There were several factors that set Sergeant Foxx apart from the organizational leaders I had seen to that point. 

He expressed genuine interest and concern for my family and our welfare. He took the time to learn my wife and children's names. He empathized with our limited income and strove to take care of us at every opportunity (e.g., WIC, holiday food baskets, etc.). Many times I observed Sergeant Foxx drive Airmen to the Education Office and help them review their transcripts and prepare degree plans. He engendered long-lasting, trusting relationships as a result. 

He loved to teach, both professionally and personally. He followed the "Tell, Show, Watch" principle. When it was time to write a Quarterly Award, he took me into his office and we wrote it together. He also taught me why saving and investing was so important by taking me on "bank runs" to make deposits. He never served a day without teaching someone something. 

He taught me to be a better Airman by sharing a few simple rules: 

1. Know and do your job well 

2. Display a positive attitude and professional appearance always 

3. Take one college class per quarter 

4. Serve one charity or organization per quarter 

These shouldn't be surprising to anyone, but I'll always remember that he took time to explicitly spell this out for me, rather than allow me to stumble along and figure it out for myself. 

I'll summarize with this... Sergeant Foxx equipped Airmen to be effective supervisors and mentors ... before "mentorship" was an Air Force term!