EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
As part of this year’s Black History Month’s events here, a mentorship panel convened at Luke’s Place Feb. 7 to provide the base community with insight into achieving career success.
The panelists were: Col. (Dr.) Anthony Mitchell, 96th Aerospace Medical Squadron commander; Col. (Dr.) Quintessa Miller, 96th Surgical Operations Squadron staff plastic and reconstructive surgeon; Chief Master Sgt. Mario White, 96th Security Forces Squadron senior enlisted manager; and Ouida Winters, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center chief of contracts.
Mitchell opened the session with a dose of reality.
“You will encounter challenges and experience struggles over the course of your Air Force careers,” said the 27-year veteran. “Reaching out for guidance from a mentor can help you get through those struggles.”
The flight surgeon leads 124 personnel in providing aerospace medicine support to eight wings and wing equivalents, 37 associate units and 19,000 workforce personnel.
A mentor’s advice should be tailored to a mentee’s strengths and weaknesses, he said.
He added that anyone who wants a successful Air Force career should first match their needs to the needs of the service branch.
The first question to the panel was if being a mentor or mentee played a significant role in their careers.
White, the enlisted leader for 96 SFS’s 526 military and civilian personnel and who also helps direct all security, law enforcement and force protection actions, responded.
He reflected on being a young Airman without any direction and the conversation with a command chief at one of his early duty stations that changed his life.
“I was a knucklehead,” White said. “I was young and just wanted to have fun. I wasn’t focused. The chief told me he believed in me and I wasn’t just a number to him. I replied with ‘You’re not my Dad.’ He said ‘In the Air Force, I am your Dad.’”
White said the life-changing talk helped chart the course of his career and shape other areas of his life.
“His message was powerful,” he said. “Receiving guidance from someone who cared made me a better man, father, brother and son,” he said. “Now I’m paying it forward and letting my Airmen know I believe in them, like the chief did for me all those years ago. I’m giving the younger generation the tools they need to replace me.”
Winters said mentorship from a person outside of her career helped her confidence to excel.
“The best advice can come from someone who doesn’t do what you do,” she said. “When I entered contracting, I was not the person I am now. I was happy to have the job, but I didn’t believe in myself enough to think I could advance in my field.”
The friend encouraged her to push past her own limitations and take charge of her career.
Winters now oversees all contractual matters for a $700 billion portfolio that includes Eglin, Robins and Hill Air Force Bases. She said mentorship is now a calling.
“It was important then, to have someone in my life to push me,” she said. “It worked. Anyone who works with me knows my door is always open. I’m willing to help anyone who asks for it.”
Miller educates residents and physician assistant students at the hospital, and mentors for the 96th Test Wing’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Academy. She offered advice from a mentor on overcoming perceptions, as a new face at a new duty station.
“I was told to always go in, work hard and focus on the positive,” she said. “Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Be nice and don’t be too proud ask for help.”
The panelists agreed that through sharing their experiences and guidance, they gain satisfaction in mentoring others in achieving their career goals.
Mitchell closed the session by encouraging the audience to become mentors, and to never stop growing by remaining mentees.
“If you mentor one another, let others mentor you and then go mentor someone else, you will change lives in the Air Force,” he said.