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Airmanship 101; 360 degrees of trust, respect, mentorship

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Scott Bowermaster
  • 387th Air Expeditionary Group
A little more than 10 years ago, a wing commander and his command chief instituted the phrase, "Trust your leaders, respect your peers and mentor your subordinates." At that time our wing had an incredibly high operations tempo and faced significant challenges related to "doing more with less." We were also experiencing an epidemic of alcohol-related incidents, specifically, driving under the influence. The phrase caught on and laid a foundation for getting us through a difficult period. In light of today's new challenges, I would revise the phrase to suggest that trust is earned and infused up and down the chain-of-command; respect should be shared equally among all Airmen, no matter the grade or position; and mentorship benefits all of us regardless of rank. Leadership in our Air Force, and across the joint and interagency environment, is a team sport. In order to get the most out of every individual on our team, up and down and across the chain of command, we must be bonded together in trust.

Merriam-Webster defines trust as a "belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc; assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; and one in which confidence is placed." Defending our nation is also a team event and the Airman serving next to you must have confidence in your training and capability to do your job and trust that you will be ready when called upon. Distractions are a part of life; some distractions we can handle on our own and some we can't. This is why it's so critical we look our Wingmen in the eyes every day and be able to detect when something's not right. Resilience results from knowing that one of your wingmen will take notice, listen, and vector you to our Air Force professionals ready to help you through the crisis. I recall a time when my supervisor was the FIRST person I would go to with a personal issue. There may not have been a high degree of trust in the beginning, but there was an expectation. Airmen were told to solve problems at the lowest level, and we did what we were told. My supervisor took care of was a result. Trust in our wingmen and being trustworthy form the foundation for a 360-degree culture of mutual respect.

Last month, our enlisted council president deferred to me for closing comments at the end of the meeting. One of the topics I spoke about was the Air Force's ongoing challenge with eliminating sexual harassment and sexual assaults. I stated that we can attack this societal issue from many sides, but we cannot rely solely on our senior officers and noncommissioned officers to solve it. Solving this issue will take a collective effort from all Airmen to cultivate a culture powerful enough to change our current environment. As part of less than one percent of our nation making it through the recruiting process and serving, all Airmen deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Clearly, sexually harassing behavior and or comments while on-duty, off-duty, face-to-face or online have no place in our Air Force. Moreover, unwelcomed physical contact is neither dignified nor respectful and cannot be tolerated. Not tolerating it begins with recognizing and calling out the bad behavior, correcting it on the spot and counseling those closest to the situation regarding how this type of behavior erodes good order and discipline and negatively impacts the mission. Don't be a passive bystander. As our chief of staff of the Air Force stated, "not in my Air Force, not on my watch!" The stakes are too high for any Airman to stay on the sidelines while this cancer metastasizes. How do we strengthen our culture in the face of today's challenges? In addition to trusting and respecting each other, we must encourage and participate in a culture of 360-degree mentoring.

Air Force Manual 36-2643, Air Force Mentoring Program, defines a mentor as a "wise, trusted, and experienced individual who shares knowledge, experience, and advice with a less experienced person." While mentorship usually involves a senior member mentoring a junior member, in some cases the senior member in the conversation is not always the member with the knowledge and experience. The French moralist and essayist Joseph Joubert is known for many quotes including, "To teach is to learn twice." I believe teaching and mentoring affords us an opportunity to really learn a topic and then to see it anew through another's eyes. Whether referred to as teaching, advice-giving or "mentoring moments," the benefits gained from casual conversations, formal feedback sessions or discussions about My Development Plan can sometimes be shared equally. Trust and respect are necessary to build strong relationships, and relationships are necessary for 360-degree mentoring to occur. While establishing trust may require getting to know each other on a somewhat personal level, an extremely important reminder is to not allow the relationship to become inappropriate or unprofessional. Refer to AFI 36-2909 for guidance related to professional and unprofessional relationships.

Our most valuable resource is our people. They are the single most important reason we are the world's greatest Air Force. We owe it to those Airmen who served before us and those who will follow, along with our Airmen serving today, to create a culture where trust is earned and infused up and down the chain-of-command; respect is shared equally among all Airmen, no matter the grade or position; and to create a culture where we are open to mentorship across 360 degrees.