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Mentoring matters to many (Air)men

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- Has a mentor made a difference in your life? As a mid-level captain stationed at Cape Canaveral in 1998, I considered separating from the United States Air Force. My job wasn't bad but I lacked focus. I didn't view my role in the Air Force as significant and I had little sense of being a part of something bigger than myself. I had no long-term direction.

Maybe there are members of your unit who feel this way. If so, quality interaction with an Airman who has earned their respect can make all the difference. In fact, I believe mentoring is one of the most valuable tools in the USAF toolkit to develop mature and effective Airmen. Here are some specific ways a mentor can make an impact.

Professional Training: In addition to basic job knowledge, an experienced mentor can teach a fellow Airman about other important Air Force topics such as professional military education, assignments, the promotion system and so on. More than academic, this interaction teaches an individual practical ways to function and be effective in the Air Force organization.

Personal Development: Service members have lives outside the Air Force. Many face difficult challenges in finances, relationships and their health. Wise council from a respected mentor can add perspective, raise awareness of how to deal with situations, impart a sense that someone cares and ultimately improve quality of life.

Setting an Example: One of the best ways to develop new skills is to observe others in action. A mentor can demonstrate effective behaviors that a junior Airman can then emulate. This type of example can ease discomfort about dealing with problems by offering the opportunity to see how an experienced individual functions and interacts with those around them at work and at home.

I was fortunate to find several mentors at a pivotal point in my career. For me, these were individuals who I respected, who were approachable and made a deliberate effort to help me develop professionally and personally. Rather than look down on my inexperience, they accepted the responsibility to set an example I could follow. This instilled in me a sense of belonging and imparted definite direction to my Air Force career.

I challenge you to look for opportunities to be a mentor. You never know the difference you could make in someone's life.