Mentoring comes from the heart

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Julie Briden-Garcia
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing
A mentor offers knowledge, insight, perspective or wisdom that is helpful to another person in a relationship that goes beyond duty or obligation. One also can construe this as a parental-style relationship. However, in the U.S. Armed Forces, when considered that a majority of the lower ranking military troops range from 18 to 24 years of age, educating these individuals can at times take on more of a parental posture.

Some of the mentoring relationships Senior Master Sgt. Katherine Mathew has established are very dear to her heart.

"One of my first mentors really caught my attention late in my career, just after I pinned on my technical sergeant stripes," she said. "She was the one who really helped set me up for success."

Since then, Sergeant Mathew has aspired to ensure other Airmen are not left to fend for themselves without some good sound advice.

"Mentoring is not a difficult process. It's all about caring," Sergeant Mathew said.

This kind of guidance is a powerful tool that can be used to assimilate, develop and grow tomorrow's Air Force leaders. Used correctly, it can orient, indoctrinate and educate Airmen about the military environment and their roles in it.

As dental technician in the 380th Expeditionary Medical Group at this air base, Sergeant Mathew has worked her way through the ranks for the past 25 years in the dental field with some very influential mentors. In turn, she has taken many Airmen under her wing to give them guidance and the chance at a very successful career. One such Airman is Airman 1st Class Tera Roberts, an early warning weapons systems operator now deployed to an air base in Southwest Asia.

Even though all the Airmen that Sergeant Mathew has mentored through the years are very special, Airman Roberts isn't just another Airman to Sergeant Mathew, she's her daughter.

"Even though we won't be able to meet while we're both deployed to the AOR, it's nice that she's just a phone call away," Airman Roberts said. "She's helped me out with many things like financial and educational information since I've enlisted."

Sergeant Mathew said she gets a real sense of pride when helping a junior ranking Airman and giving his or her career real direction.

"It's this involvement that helps grow the young into responsible productive leaders," she said.  

This deployment is her final one before heading home to retire. On the other hand, however, this is Airman Roberts first.

With less than three years service under her Air Force utility belt, Airman Roberts is undertaking new and fearless experiences and she's making the most of her great mentor.

"I've had some tough experiences with supervisors at my other bases but my mom has helped guide me, utilizing her wealth of knowledge as a senior NCO," Airman Roberts said.

Ever since Airman Roberts was young, she always was challenging herself, says her mother. When someone told her she was too small for a task she would take that as a dare to excel.

Giving an Airman a challenge along with the right equipment and training is setting him or her up for success, Sergeant Mathew says.

"Sometimes I think of my Airmen as my children," she said.  "They are, in a way, my kids.  I'm there to guide, lead and advise them to become productive leaders in our Air Force."

Mentors provide a stabilizing and emotionally supportive influence on their mentees. They provide opportunities for their mentees to acquire valuable experience and encourage their mentees to broaden their skill sets by tackling and mastering new challenges. They provide advice, counsel, and guidance to their mentees, usually at the mentee's request. Using a senior NCO's experience and knowledge is vital to a strong mentoring relationship, especially if that mentor is your mother.

Airman Roberts converses with Sergeant Mathew on a regular basis via the computer's communicator, by regular e-mail or with a quick phone call, sometimes to get advice on a job-related problem and sometimes just to chat.

"My mom has shown me how to treat people and how I want to be treated by others," Airman Roberts said.

These two Airmen have a much stronger bond than most mentors and mentees but each mentoring relationship should have strong ties. It's the glue that brings people together.
"Mentoring relationships frequently go beyond the nuts and bolts of the organization," says Maj. Marie Y. Rigotti, the author of Mentoring of Women in the United States Air Force. "Mentors provide positive reinforcement to the mentee at critical points in their career to help build self-confidence and develop a sense of personal accomplishment."

Mentors affect the future and direction of the organization. Mentees are what mentors leave behind when they retire: their legacy.

(Some of the information contained in this article was obtained from Maj. Marie Rigotti and Maj. Darrell E. Adams and their articles addressing mentoring in today's Air Force.)