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Air Force leaders step outside service branch to mentor students

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. David Salanitri
  • Air Force Public Affairs Agency, Operating Location - P
Uniformed and civilian Air Force leaders volunteered their Friday evening to mentor black high school and college students during the 2014 Black Engineer of the Year Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics conference Feb. 7, here.

During the two-hour mentoring sessions, the Airmen passed down life lessons to 360 students from the Washington, D.C. metro area, who are interested in pursuing professions in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

The students, who were hand-selected by their school administrators, had the opportunity to peek into the life of their mentors’ Air Force service, whether that service is as a military or civilian member.

Among the handful of senior executive service and general officer Airmen attending was Timothy Bridges, the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations .

For the past few years, Bridges has taken an active part in the mentorship program. He said approaching the topic of growing youth is a responsibility he feels he has.

“I think all senior leaders should take the opportunity when they have it to engage with our youth and to motivate and encourage them,” he said. “It is time well spent, part of our responsibility and provides a forum to help make a difference in some youngster's life.”

For Brig. Gen. Cedric George, the Warner Robins Air Logistic Complex commander, mentorship began at an early age.

George was the son of an enlisted soldier, whose 30 years of service took place during a challenging time for black men and women, he said.

“Needless to say, having a father who earned such longevity in the military provided me with a great example,“ George said. “I also had the priceless example of how a successful military man conducts himself. My dad’s time had its share of inequities and difficulties. Nevertheless, he was undeterred in his loyalty and pride. My dad’s stature … the way he carried himself, the way he walked, the way he wore his uniform … had a huge impact on me.”

Children don’t always have active role models in their lives. For Bridges, being a mentor is an opportunity to change a student’s life.

“There are some great kids out there who want to do well,” he said. “We need to help them, teach them and inspire them.”

According to the Air Force mentoring program, mentorship is an essential ingredient in developing well-rounded, professional and competent future leaders, with the overall goal to help individuals reach their full potential.

Bridges said mentorship helped established the frame work of the man he is today.

“I think for me, early mentors not only challenged me to do my very best, they held me accountable for my own actions and put their trust and faith in me,” he said. “I felt if they thought I could do it, then it must be true. Most importantly though, they opened my eyes to my own potential and motivated me to go for it.”

Throughout Bridges’ career, mentorship came in many forms and at many stages.

“During my career mentors came at all levels, but I think I learned the most from a few key senior NCOs” he said. “They helped shape and mold me early, and I came to understand my role as a leader and as a role model. They reinforced integrity and accountability by what they did, and didn't do.”

Mentorship isn’t a one-way process for Bridges said. As a mentor, his goal is to develop students but the students always manage to teach him something.

“I've been attending these sessions for the last few years, and I always come away rejuvenated and encouraged,” Bridges said. “It's not just a ‘give’ for me, it's a ‘get’ too.”

Bridges said growing and developing the upcoming generation of today helps ensure a positive and successful generation of tomorrow.

“If we don't invest in our future, we will become bankrupt,” he said. “If we don’t teach them the way in which they should go, they will be lost. The world is a very confusing and scary place -- a little light in the darkness is a big help to those who seek it.”

Even with the tremendous success George received, he said he hopes those he has mentored see greater success.

“I hope for all of the young people their experience can be as good, even better than mine,” he said. “Hopefully then, they will pass it on down the line and be that best example for the next generations.”