• Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jeff Walston
  • 913th Airlift Group
Originally published May 21, 2008

Generations before the Air Force decided to realize a Mentoring Program, my forefathers perfected a concept entrusting the survival of generations of Walstons to come.

Webster defines mentor as - a wise loyal advisor, a teacher or coach. Air Force Instruction 36-3401 defines mentor as “a trusted counselor or guide.” According to the AFI, mentoring is a relationship in which a person with greater experience and wisdom guides another person to develop both personally and professionally. My family did that first.

Like commanders, my grandpa was responsible for making sure the program continued to work where my father and uncles were concerned. Dad, my direct supervisor, was and still is my primary mentor and the key to my success.

My generation was the new subordinates subjected to lessons of culture and family history and the knowledge that we were going to spend time in the military as our forefathers had. Following my older brother, I joined the military, and I in turn prepared my little brother for his military service. That was my first job as a direct supervisor.

Unlike my brothers, I have no offspring. I took the opportunity to mentor children of friends and younger military personnel met along my career. This wasn’t done because it was required by a program instituted by an organization, but because I liked being able to pass down the benefit of my years of experience.

A few years back, my father came over and handed me a piece of paper. I held in my hands the obituary of one of my troops who had just been killed on active duty. I trained him for several years and had heard nothing from him since. It took a minute, but I remembered who he was. He had left a wife and a daughter behind.

I read the 455 words, which was quite large for an obituary. I don’t know who wrote it, but to my surprise 185 of those words were about the training and awards he received in my unit. It read that those “experiences instilled in him the desire to be the best husband, father, and sailor that he could possibly be.”

The Air Force program provides for guidelines, documentation, and feedback rules that some supervisors let get in the way of the real goal. Mentoring is an ongoing process and a mentor may never know if his or her hard work will bear fruit, or if a positive difference is made in a young life. To some supervisors it is just part of the job, not a concentrated effort to mold the future of a subordinate. That is the sad part.

True mentoring asks the question … whose life and career are you going to affect today … or tomorrow?