Commentary by Col. Michael Mason
50th Space Wing Vice Commander
Mentorship is one of the key tenants we rely on to help develop our most important resource, our people. For officers, mentorship usually means finding a trusted supervisor or commander with whom you can discuss how to improve your personal performance, how to further develop your leadership skills and how best to position yourself to be more competitive for leadership opportunities, including promotions, when they come your way.
As a young lieutenant and captain, I clearly remember the mentoring sessions I had with more senior captains and majors where it was clearly explained to me what I needed to do if I wanted to be competitive to advance. These sessions were often followed by similar discussions with my peers to compare what I was told with what they had heard in a similar mentoring session. While the advice was never exactly the same, there were common themes and “rules of the road” which began to emerge.
However, during my time here back in the wing, I have often found myself scratching my head wondering if our young officers today are provided similar guidance when it comes to preparing themselves to be competitive to advance to the next level. With future force shaping initiatives on the horizon and the recent change to stop promoting 100 percent of 1st lieutenants to captain, it will become even more important for young officers to understand the expectations to be competitive for advancement.
While there is no cookbook or checklist to follow to ensure you have a strong record, the following “rules of the road” will help to ensure you do not put yourself at a disadvantage when the next opportunity for a leadership position or promotion comes about.
Job Performance: Your first priority in any position is to become an expert in your job. Becoming an expert means you need to dedicate yourself to your training, continuously pick the brains of more senior officers and non commissioned officers you work with, and put in the effort necessary to try and become the best performer you can be. As it should be, job performance is the primary determinant of who will advance to higher levels of responsibility (i.e. mission commander, flight commander, etc). An officer’s performance combined with the level of responsibility and authority they hold then becomes the primary determinant of who is selected for promotion. One great way to improve your job performance is to work to be selected for the wing’s new week long Lieutenant’s Professional Development Program. While it won’t show up on your SURF, it is excellent training to improve your job performance and also demonstrates your commitment to become the best officer you can be.
Professional Military Education: Your second priority is to complete the personnel military education commensurate with your newest rank. In English, this means you should complete Squadron Officer School via correspondence as soon as possible after being selected for captain. SOS provides valuable training to assist in honing your leadership skills. In addition, the selection process to attend SOS in-residence is competitive, and to be blunt, if you have not completed SOS via correspondence, there is very little chance you will be selected to attend SOS in-residence. Appropriate PME is also a large factor taken into consideration when selecting for special programs and opportunities, not to mention promotion. If SOS isn’t completed before you come up for major, the board could very well question your commitment to our profession. The same is true for completing Air Command and Staff College well before you come up for promotion to lieutenant colonel.
Advanced Academic Degrees: The third priority is to begin to work toward obtaining a masters degree, as the Air Force highly values a well educated officer corps. Each individual needs to decide the amount of challenge they want to take on when it comes to selecting the specific advanced degree to pursue (i.e. technical or non-technical). If your plan is to make the Air Force a career, you can rarely go wrong in pursuing a degree related to your job responsibilities. However, don’t take too long to decide. The sooner you complete your masters, the sooner you’ll begin to separate yourself from your peers that are still deciding what they want to do. In addition, a masters will likely be a discriminator for a captain coming up for promotion to major and could possibly even become a factor in the promotion selection process for lieutenants coming up for captain.
While the information above is focused on officers, mentorship applies to all of our members, officers, enlisted and civilians. During the next few weeks, the 50th Space Wing Command Chief, Chief Master Sgt. Randy Lacombe and the 50th Space Wing Director of Staff, Jeffrey Hunt plan to publish commentaries that outline the specific “rules of the road” for enlisted and civilian members.
Hopefully, the guidance above is consistent with the mentorship you’ve received from your supervisors, commanders and peers. If not, it just might be time to find a new mentor!