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NEWS | Dec. 16, 2014

AIT Instructor’s passion for mentoring shines through

By Staff Sgt. Teresa J. Cleveland 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

It's late in the evening on a duty day. Most U.S. Army Soldiers are caught in the traffic headed home and cadence is heard echoing down the street as Advanced Individual Training Soldiers head back to their barracks. A classroom in the 128th Aviation Brigade stands empty aside from one individual preparing for the next day.

Staff Sgt. Kevin Shaffer, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 210th Aviation Regiment, 128th Aviation Brigade instructor, has served in the Army for 16 years. He began teaching new Soldiers how to perform electrical work on UH-60 Blackhawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters 18 months ago.

While becoming an instructor may not be for everyone, Shaffer believed he could make a difference in what young Soldiers learned in today's Army.

"I came through this same school 16 years ago, and although the aircraft model has changed, the foundations are the same," said Shaffer. "I've been out in the field for a really long time and I feel like I have a lot to share with the new Soldiers."

Shaffer begins his daily routine with physical training at the students' company at 5 a.m., as a squad leader. After PT, while the students are eating breakfast and heading to the schoolhouse, Shaffer is already there, preparing the day's lesson. Other than an hour lunch break for the students, Shaffer and the other instructors on his team teach straight through from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Shaffer and a partner instructor typically teach eight students at a time. As he teaches between 30 and 40 students each year, he believes it is important to set a good example for the new Soldiers and provide support outside of their normal instruction requirements.

"We spend more time with the students than anyone else so they really get to know us as individuals," said Shaffer. "My job is not just to teach them how to perform maintenance on an aircraft, [but to] help mold them as Soldiers and as people, so it's important for me to be on top of my game and instill confidence in them."

Students get time to work hands-on with the aircraft during their lessons, allowing them to troubleshoot problems they may encounter in their unit in the future. Shaffer encourages students to ask questions regularly in hopes of making them more comfortable asking for help.

"I hope each of my students goes to their first unit with the notion that even if they leave here without a perfect knowledge of how to troubleshoot an aircraft, they have the confidence to ask for help," said Shaffer. "At the end of the day, they are responsible for lives when they work on aircraft, so I want them to understand the importance of asking for help if they are unsure of how to do something."

Shaffer continues to support his students after they graduate; several students request him as their mentor. Though he enjoys teaching now, Shaffer has high hopes for the future when he finishes teaching.

"I would love to go back to a regular unit and see some of the Soldiers applying what I taught them," said Shaffer. "I look forward to being with them in a regular unit, not as student and teacher, not as mentor and mentee, but just as Soldiers, working on aircraft together."