The word “mentorship” is often used by Air Force leaders as a force development tool to mold the next generation of Airmen.
While determining ways to provide mentorship to Airmen, a group of female senior NCOs looked back on their own careers and thought of how they would’ve benefited from learning from other Air Force women. Their idea of women-specific mentorship came to fruition during the first “Let’s Connect” women’s meeting June 11 during a lunchtime session at the golf course.
“Let’s Connect” is a developmental program geared to develop rapport for female Airmen of all ranks organized by members of the KMC Top III and led by Senior Master Sgt. Joanne Bass, 86th Operations Group superintendent.
In deciding panel members, Bass looked to female enlisted leaders around the KMC to reach out to younger females and provide lessons learned from past experiences.
Ultimately, the panel for the inaugural meeting included four KMC chief master sergeants, all women, with a plethora of advice and experience to pass along to the 38 Airmen in attendance. Chief Master Sgts. Gay Veale, 521st Air Mobility Wing command chief; Erica Shipp, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa services functional manager; Theresa Meyer, 86th Medical Group superintendent; and Lisa Boothe, 86th Comptroller Squadron and wing staff agencies superintendent.
“I jumped at the chance because I have always had mentors in my career and feel that mentorship is important,” said Boothe. “I also feel like it is important for me to give back to the next generation and this was an opportunity to do that.”
The challenges facing young women in the Air Force today aren’t too different from the ones faced by the panel members. While the years have provided progression for females serving in the military, some of the misconceptions, misunderstandings and, unfortunately, stereotypes still remain today.
“I always say, ‘Been there, done that,’ and hopefully sharing life lessons will positively influence our female Airmen and show them they are not the only ones who may have faced struggles, or important life decisions,” Shipp said. “My charge as a senior NCO is to deliberately develop our junior members and support our commissioned officers. My hope is to inspire them to be better followers, leaders and supervisors.”
The panel members passed along their experiences with motherhood while serving, the importance of balance between work and home life, how they stay motivated, and resilience and fortitude about themselves, their mentors and others they’ve learned from throughout their careers.
While not everyone who serves will make it to the highest enlisted rank, Boothe hopes the stories and advice shared during these events will inspire the next generation to “shoot for the stars.”
“If I can give any advice or inspiration to strive for that level of excellence, then I want to do that,” said Boothe. “Women have come a very long way in our military, but we are still experiencing ‘firsts’ even today. Hopefully what we are doing is paving the way for the next generation of female leaders.”
“This was a great idea,” said Shipp “… to just be real and frank with our female Air Force members. I thought if I could share some insight on how I ‘grew up’ in the Air Force both personally and professionally, I could pass on my learned lessons to our future leaders.”
The event provided an opportunity for the senior NCOs to pass along knowledge, but they, too, gained inspiration from their peers and others in attendance.
“Seeing women like (Chief-select) Bass; how does she do it,” said Senior Master Sgt. Felisha Haman, 86th Communications Squadron knowledge and network operations section chief. “She can do it all: woman, mother, Airman. She continues to mentor me to this day.”
The feedback provided by those in attendance was so positive other members of the Top III’s outreach committee are taking steps to organize a men’s mentorship group, said Haman. She hopes those in attendance will recognize the value of the programs, whether man or woman, and continue to build on them long after her generation is retired.
“We’re not so different. You’re not alone,” Haman said. “There’s a lady out there who has walked the walk you’re on or is walking the same walk who can support you. There are challenges, and there will be challenges; just talk to me — let’s connect.”
The next “Let’s Connect” event is scheduled to take place the second Tuesday of every month with the next occurring July 9 in the community center. Additionally, the committee offers a potluck dinner for female dorm residents the same evening at 6 p.m. in the dayroom of dorm 2418. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on upcoming events.
All of the programs are designed to allow for open and honest communication between Airmen in an environment of compassion and understanding.
“There is just something magical about coming together and learning from each other,” Boothe said. “It’s funny when you share your story, and you look out into the audience and see others shaking their heads in agreement because they, too, can relate to what you are saying. It helps you know that you are on the right track. You feel good to think that your advice may get someone out of a rut and on to the next level. It is exciting!”