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Mentoring builds strong bonds and a network of support

Three military personnel, wearing masks, having a discussion in a room Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg (center), senior enlisted leader at the Defense Health Agency, mentors airmen at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Virginia Sept. 23, 2020. (Photo by Army Staff Sgt. Christian V. Olivarez, DHA.)

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Mentoring plays a vital role with in the military, and in the Military Health System.

“Mentoring fills a void in people,” said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg, Defense Health Agency senior enlisted leader. "The mentor is inherently telling you: ‘I’ve been there before, and I’ve been in your shoes.’"

“One of the best things a mentor can do is to listen and pull back so the mentee can have the experience themselves. My experience helps me to know my place in that dynamic.”

January serves as National Mentoring Month, so some MHS members are sharing their stories of both being a mentee and a mentor. Mentoring forges bonds for each successive generation of health providers and enables a strong network of support.

Gragg said he had three formal mentors during his career, but probably 25 informal mentors who he watched and emulated. “Both types were just as impactful, but some had no clue I was learning from them,” he noted.

“Someone is counting on you for their development, growth and decision-making,” he said. “It’s the yoke of responsibility that falls on every leader.”

“The smallest things come back full circle sometimes,” Gragg noted while recounting an event during flight medic school in 1993 as a newly promoted E5. "We were meeting people in the school, and this young kid who was an E2 introduced himself as 'I’m just Pvt. X.'" "I said, No, you aren’t just Private X. You are a soldier in the U.S. Army, and you are here to make a difference."

“That same soldier ran into me six or seven years later and said: ‘Thank you. You gave me value and meaning. You changed my whole perception of myself in the Army,’” Gragg said. “I should thank him for telling me that. His feedback made me realize that every interaction I had with others could have a lasting positive or negative impact. This helped me to be more cognizant of how I communicate and affect people every day.”

Gragg said he learned that a gesture – no matter how small – “could be life-changing or life-affirming. That’s why I try to leave things on a positive note even if it’s a negative situation because my choices could have short-term, long-term or permanent consequences.”

Recognizing younger sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines, for their abilities or accomplishments is another tool used in mentorship.

Two senior enlisted airmen at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Robert Wick and Air Force Master Sgt. Antonio Cruz, helped Air Force Major Lena Williams Cox, a former section commander for the 959th Medical Operations Squadron at BAMC. She said they created a blended culture that took full advantage of the different training received by Air Force medical technicians and their Army counterparts while preserving Air Force culture at the country’s largest military medical treatment facility.

“Before our efforts, our enlisted medics were like multi-tools that were used only for cutting,” Williams Cox said. “We helped the clinical sections understand the airmen’s capabilities and showed them how to maximize their potential.”

As a team, they initiated leadership rounds and moved the squadron’s command team into the main BAMC building. They also realigned flight leaders “with the appropriate clinical units to create a culture of inclusion and provide guidance on ways to maximize our airmen’s potential and highlight their unique knowledge, skills and abilities to further advance the BAMC mission.”

Wick and Cruz “helped me grow as an officer,” as well as helping enlisted personnel improve their morale, Williams Cox said, adding: “Listen to your enlisted forces. They have so much knowledge and technical capabilities to teach.”

These types of mentor/mentee relationships continue to enhance ideological, psychological, and spiritual fitness within the context of the DHA’s Total Force Fitness and can be incredibly rewarding for both mentor and mentee.

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