Air Force

May 11, 2012

ALS program introduces mentor experience

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by Master Sgt. Cindy Dorfner
56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Senior Airman Brandon Kringen, 756th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron assistant dedicated crew chief, speaks to Master Sgt. José Nuñez, 756th AMXS, 310th Aircraft Maintenance Unit first sergeant, during a mentoring session May 1 at Luke Air Force Base.

The “Little Brown Book,” also known as The Enlisted Force Structure or AFI 36-2618, says senior noncommissioned officers will be active visible leaders who deliberately develop junior enlisted Airmen, NCOs and fellow SNCOs into better followers, leaders and supervisors.

That, in a nutshell, is what Master Sgt. Sheris Poisson, John J. Rhodes Airman Leadership School commandant, tries to capture with the ALS senior NCO mentorship program.

If enthusiasm for the program helps make it successful, and Poisson is convinced it does, Master Sgt. José Nuñez couldn’t have been a better candidate to offer his experience. Nunez was an ALS mentor for Class 12-3, which graduated in March.

“I wanted to participate just to be able to learn what things our Airmen and young NCOs are concerned with, what they’re expecting and also be able to use my experiences to help them understand why certain things happen in certain ways,” he said.

Poisson, who participated in the program prior to taking on the commandant role, said success or failure depends on a number of details. First, the mentor must be in it for the right reasons.

“If the senior NCO is genuine and wants to ‘be’ a mentor, it’s a success,” she said. “If he or she is in it for personal gain, such as a performance report bullet, it is not.”

Tech. Sgt. Lyndsey Lemus, an ALS instructor for nearly four years, agreed.

“When the mentors come in, participate in the discussions and really interact with the students, it works,” she said. “Showing that enlisted leaders are committed to Airmen resonates with the younger generation.

“Our mentor (Master Sgt. Andrew Cathey, 56th Medical Group) gave us a different perspective on topics and provided a unique dynamic when he was there,” said Senior Airman C.J. Hatch, 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs specialist, who recently earned Distinguished Graduate honors from Class 12-3. “He was able to relate to things we were learning in class to things we’ll likely encounter in our Air Force careers — he sort of bridged that gap between the lesson and real life.”

Hatch said it was nice to have a senior NCO give up time out of his schedule to sit in on lessons, participate in PT and even volunteer with the group as they participated in the recent “Food for Kidz” event.

“It’s great when they show up for PT,” Lemus said. “A lot of times we hear from students that they never see their own senior NCOs at PT. If their mentor doesn’t show up for PT here, it tends to reinforce that. But, when they show up, the students don’t care how fast they are or if they can do more pushups. It really does mean a lot to the students that their mentors participate.”

At the start of each class, mentors receive the same schedule as the students with a briefing on expectations and when they’re allowed to be in the classroom. Any type of communication-related lessons are out. For one thing, students are generally nervous enough getting up in front of their classmates for speeches, Lemus said. To add a master or senior master sergeant could up the ante on the nerve scale.

Another thing mentors need to remember is to take a back seat during lessons. That can sometimes be a challenge for senior NCOs who are used to being the leader in his or her shop. Poisson said there have been occasions when she’s had to gently remind the mentor that it’s the instructor who runs the classroom.

“Sometimes I’ve had to remind the senior NCO of their role,” she said. “Those occasions are rare, but they do happen.”

Ideally, Poisson, Nuñez and Lemus agreed, relationships are formed so if and when the students need advice in the future, they can call on their ALS mentor.

“I believe the program is worth it,” Nuñez said. “It gives us a chance to share some lessons learned from personal experience and get to know the new generation of Airmen in a more comfortable environment. I don’t think you can help getting attached to the students. I’ve run into a few of the students around base and immediately get a hello or get into a conversation thanks to the connection of that class.”

Any senior NCO who would like more information on the mentor program or who would like to sign up should contact the program’s point of contact, Master Sgt. Derick Crosdale via email at derick.crosdale@luke.af.mil.




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