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Making A Difference One Airman At A Time

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. James Morris
  • 43rd Mission Support Group
I recently received an e-mail that reminded me how important good mentorship is. Throughout my career, I've had the good fortune to be mentored by several very good NCOs. At my first duty assignment, Tech. Sgt. Ron Hubble always reminded me about the importance of studying my promotion material. If he saw me sitting around without it, he would say something to me like, "you are going to feel stupid when the results come out and you're the only one who didn't get selected." 

Sergeant Hubble always carried his study material with him, and I eventually got into the habit of having mine readily available as well. Throughout the years, people snickered at me as I sat in the dining facility at lunch reading my study guide, but I'm where I am now because of the habits he instilled in me. Ron eventually became a chief master sergeant serving 30 years, and I credit my successful test preparation to him. 

Next came Master Sgt. Mike Sprague. Sergeant Sprague had a keen eye for detail and was a huge advocate for eliminating anything wasteful. Every time he'd walk through our work center he'd ask penetrating questions about why things were the way they were. Answering him by stating, "that's the way it's always been," generally brought about a stern lecture on the danger of complacency along with a "that had better not be there when I visit next" comment. 

Because Sergeant Sprague was strict, no one wanted to find out what would happen if we dared not do what he said, and in the end, he always turned out to be right. The feedback system as we know it today was also introduced while I worked for Sergeant Sprague. I still remember the two-hour lecture he gave us on the importance of feedback and how to use the form while conducting feedback. He would draw a line down the center of the form and write a big "3" over the top of it so recipients had no doubt what their markings on their Enlisted Performance Report were. Sergeant Sprague went on to become a chief master sergeant serving 30 years, and 18 years later I still conduct feedbacks in the manner he taught. 

While deployed to Afghanistan about a year and a half ago, I ran into a rather troubled staff sergeant. This staff sergeant was your typical problem child whose problems in life were the fault of his parents and supervisors - never his own. He was fairly charismatic, and before long, he attracted a following of others who joined in the misery parade. The officers and senior NCOs who worked in the office were deeply engaged in the daily operations, and this pessimism virus grew as a result. When I arrived on the scene, the work center was divided. I spoke to the major directly in charge of these individuals, and he was more than happy to let me do what was necessary to bring them in line. 

I started by making sure their time was always employed or they were studying for promotion (as Sergeant Hubble had encouraged me). Before long, the clique broke up, which created a lot of resentment in the troubled sergeant. He protested the change quietly at first with the occasional snide remark but eventually grew bold and started hanging derogatory signs on the wall about the quality of leadership. I filled out the appropriate paperwork and mailed it back to his unit commander. Then, drawing back on what Sergeant Sprague had taught me, I sat him down and conducted a feedback. He was shocked when I drew the line down the center and started placing X's to the left of the "3." 

Line-by-line I advanced down the form, highlighting his negative behaviors making sure to point out the positive ones when applicable. He sat there in disbelief as no one had ever pointed these things out to him before. Four hours and five pages of documentation later, he responded by saying I was wrong and had not observed him correctly. I challenged him to prove it and received the typical feeble excuses I've heard from others in the past. I concluded by telling him if he wasn't willing to change, he should separate from the Air Force. The young sergeant was smart enough to keep his mouth shut and do what he was told for the remainder of the deployment. 

Two weeks ago I received an e-mail from him with several attachments. In the e-mail, he explained how initially angry he was at the way I had outlined his character flaws, but after several months of reflection, realized that I was right. He needed to take responsibility for his life and make some changes. He started by joining a local weight loss club and lost 59 pounds. Several of the attachments were before and after pictures, and I was able to see the incredible weight loss he had achieved. The weight loss had the added effect of enabling him to pass his PT test for the first time in his career, which in turn culminated in him receiving his first "5" on his EPR. The young sergeant also attached a copy of his college transcript, showing me the classes he'd taken to improve himself along with the A's he had received. He thanked me for sitting him down and saying the things he needed to hear. 

I now realize the pride Sergeant Hubble and Sergeant Sprague must have felt knowing the impact they had on the Airmen they supervised. While I've lost touch with both of them, I still value their mentorship after all of these years. My success today is a direct result of their involvement in my development. I've had other successes with Airmen I've mentored over the years, along with some failures. The key is taking the time and saying the things that the individuals need to hear.