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April Shirt Blast

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Carl Clegg
  • 169th Fighter Wing

“I am not a role model.” Retired basketball star Charles Barkley said those words in a Nike commercial some years ago. I immediately took issue with that statement until I learned the context in which he said it. He was redirecting the role of role model away from sports superstars and toward parents, who should be role models for their children. 

My instinct was, and still is, correct. We don’t get to choose to be role models, we only choose to be good or bad role models. Whether we are section supervisors, first sergeants, commanders or basketball players, people can and do look to us for direction. The same is true for all Airmen; you don’t have to be in an actual position of influence to be an influencer. I have seen young Airmen have both positive and negative influence over their peers. 

For the purposes of this article, I’m equating the terms role model, influencer and mentor. The takeaway is this: What are you doing to positively influence those around you? I’m not just asking this of supervisors and commanders. Whoever you are, wherever you work and whatever your rank, what are you doing to positively influence the lives of those around you, to include up the chain of command? Yes, Airmen can and do influence their leaders every day.  

“How do you become a role model or a mentor?” I hate to beat a dead horse but you already are one. You don’t need an Air Force program to be a mentor. Think about the people with whom you work. They are all picking up something from you, but is your influence positive or negative? Is it intentional? You might ask, “What do I have to offer someone else?” That’s a fair question and one I asked years ago. The answer is experience. Along with the immutable characteristics that bring diversity to our Air Force, our individual past experiences color our present environments. I often get asked for advice for those heading off to basic training and I always tell them the same thing, volunteer for everything and don’t fear mistakes. 

Nothing will teach you more than the lessons from your mistakes and the experiences that push you outside of your comfort zone. It then becomes your privilege to pass that knowledge on to those around you. You get to be the reason someone makes an awesome choice in their life, or you may even get to be the reason someone chooses life itself. Personal success is a wonderful thing but watching people whom you influence experience personal success too is incredibly gratifying. When someone you have influenced and mentored thanks you for your role in their success, you’ll be hooked.  

Several years ago, I was listening to people’s problems and connecting them with solutions. At the time, I had no idea the influence I was having on numerous people; I was just caring for my fellow Airmen. I was asked in 2018 to apply to be a first sergeant and it has been the most rewarding job of my 30-year military career. I simply get to focus on taking care of Airmen. The wing is hiring first sergeants again and if this article has helped you realize that you are already a positive role model and you want to take that to the next level, please talk with your first sergeant or the command chief and apply.