The â€œLittle Brown Book,â€ 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. JosÃ© NuÃ±ez couldnâ€™t have been a better candidate to offer his experience. Nunez was an ALS mentor for Class 12-3, which graduated in March.
â€œI wanted to participate just to be able to learn what things our Airmen and young NCOs are concerned with, what theyâ€™re expecting and also be able to use my experiences to help them understand why certain things happen in certain ways,â€ 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.
â€œIf the senior NCO is genuine and wants to â€˜beâ€™ a mentor, itâ€™s a success,â€ she said. â€œIf he or she is in it for personal gain, such as a performance report bullet, it is not.â€
Tech. Sgt. Lyndsey Lemus, an ALS instructor for nearly four years, agreed.
â€œWhen the mentors come in, participate in the discussions and really interact with the students, it works,â€ she said. â€œShowing that enlisted leaders are committed to Airmen resonates with the younger generation.
â€œOur mentor (Master Sgt. Andrew Cathey, 56th Medical Group) gave us a different perspective on topics and provided a unique dynamic when he was there,â€ said Senior Airman C.J. Hatch, 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs specialist, who recently earned Distinguished Graduate honors from Class 12-3. â€œHe was able to relate to things we were learning in class to things weâ€™ll likely encounter in our Air Force careers â€” he sort of bridged that gap between the lesson and real life.â€
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 â€œFood for Kidzâ€ event.
â€œItâ€™s great when they show up for PT,â€ Lemus said. â€œA lot of times we hear from students that they never see their own senior NCOs at PT. If their mentor doesnâ€™t show up for PT here, it tends to reinforce that. But, when they show up, the students donâ€™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.â€
At the start of each class, mentors receive the same schedule as the students with a briefing on expectations and when theyâ€™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 sheâ€™s had to gently remind the mentor that itâ€™s the instructor who runs the classroom.
â€œSometimes Iâ€™ve had to remind the senior NCO of their role,â€ she said. â€œThose occasions are rare, but they do happen.â€
Ideally, Poisson, NuÃ±ez and Lemus agreed, relationships are formed so if and when the students need advice in the future, they can call on their ALS mentor.
â€œI believe the program is worth it,â€ NuÃ±ez said. â€œIt 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 donâ€™t think you can help getting attached to the students. Iâ€™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.â€
Any senior NCO who would like more information on the mentor program or who would like to sign up should contact the programâ€™s point of contact, Master Sgt. Derick Crosdale via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.