Mentors offer Soldiers, civilians formal, informal career guidance
February 11, 2009
- "You have to devote time, you have to become his shadow and be with that Soldier daily. It's not about you, it's about the organization."
- "During my shadow assignment, I learned more in one day than in 22 years (in the Army)."
- "It was a total eye opener."
HEIDELBERG, Germany - Often as Soldiers and civilian employees move up in rank, they look up to senior officers, NCOs or supervisors who nudge them along their career path in an informal relationship.
The mentorship relationships become formal under programs such as the Sergeant Morales Club, Installation Management Command's Civilian Mentoring Program, and the ARMY Mentorship Program.
U.S. Army Garrison Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg Command Sgt. Maj. Yolanda Lomax stresses that mentorship is voluntary, and that it is between two people with differing levels of experience.
"When I take time out to read to children at the library," Lomax said, "I fulfill a commitment that will benefit the youth."
Her volunteer work with children who have less experience reading is just one example of how she demonstrates mentorship.
She sets an example for others, gets outside her comfort zone and passes on to the children what she calls "one of the most important gifts" - the gift of her time.
Giving of one's time applies equally to mentoring junior Soldiers, Lomax said.
"You have to devote time," she said, "you have to become his shadow and be with that Soldier daily.
"It's not about you, it's about the organization. What have we done to better the Army as a whole'"
Lomax remembers two people who devoted their time to mentor her and help her grow into the leader she is today, Command Sgt. Maj. Ezell Wills, and Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Allen.
Lomax knew Allen when she was a sergeant first class at Fort Benning, Ga. He taught her to be candid with others.
"Corrective criticism makes us better at what we're supposed to do," she said.
Wills, who she knew as a first sergeant at Fort Jackson, S.C., taught her to really get to know those she serves with - what makes them tick, what motivates them.
Others have helped Lomax become the Soldier she is today, but she quickly singles out the one greatest mentor in her life - her grandmother, Susie Jones.
"Everything I do is attributed to her and how she brought us up," Lomax said.
She struggled through the early 1920s and kept the family together through tough times. She taught Lomax that the world doesn't owe her anything; she has to work for it.
One example of how Lomax has mentored others to work toward their career goals is a young staff sergeant she worked with in Korea. Lomax helped the Soldier learn how to respect leaders and others and how to prepare for the next three levels of leadership or civilian life through education.
Lomax said mentors should push their Soldiers to better themselves in training, physical ability, mental capability and schools, all areas stressed by the Year of the NCO announcement.
"Every day an NCO should look in the mirror," Lomax said, "and ask themselves, 'did I do the best I could have done yesterday' If not, what can I do today to make it better''"
It was that type of NCO mentorship that Mitchell Lee, assistant garrison manager at the Germersheim Army Depot, said he felt was missing when he became a Department of the Army civilian after retiring from the Army in 2005.
Near the end of his 22-year career, Lee said he became a member of the Sergeant Morales Club, a NCO organization which promotes integrity, professionalism and leadership for the enlisted force serving in Europe.
As a detachment first sergeant, Lee said the U.S. Army Europe Command Sgt. Maj. David Lady and Command Sgt. Maj. Michael L. Gravens held him to the standard.
In effort to seek out mentors in the civil service and to help him achieve his long-term career goals, Lee applied for the IMCOM Civilian Mentoring Program.
His application was accepted in October and his mentor/mentee relationship with JoAnn Chambers, IMCOM-Europe chief of staff, began.
Since then, Lee said Chambers has prescribed an individual development plan, which stresses both the Civilian Education Program as well as a civilian education leading to a master's degree.
Lee said he's had stretch assignments and shadow assignments along the way as well. Stretch assignments challenged his abilities and forced him to work outside his comfort zone.
Shadow assignments allowed him to spend time with Chambers as she performs her routine duties. "During my shadow assignment," Lee said, "I learned more in one day than in 22 years (in the Army)."
The IMCOM mentorship program pairs the mentee with someone who works at an equivalent level of where the mentee has set his goal.
For Lee, his goal is to become a deputy garrison commander.
"I went into this thinking, 'Yes, I could be a deputy garrison commander today,'" Lee said.
After spending a day with Chambers, he said he realized he has a long way to go. He was particularly impressed with the level of responsibility and the diversity of her job.
"It was a total eye opener," he said.
As part of his career development, Lee said he has applied for the Developmental Assignment Program, and hopes to be accepted so he can diversify his work experience, and he's confident the mentorship program has allowed him to reach the next level in his career.
For more information on formal mentorship programs, go to www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/mentorship, or www.imcom.army.mil/site/hr/workforce.asp.
(Editor's Note: Jason Austin writes for the USAG Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg newspaper, the Herald Post.)