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Mentoring advice from a Navy senior chief

Two military personnel, wearing masks, sitting at a desk talking Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Luis Reyes (right) from Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, mentors Navy Hospital Corpsman First Class Jon Alexander, who is stationed at the Navy Medicine Training Support Command there. Reyes is the senior chief instructor of the Hospital Corpsmen Program and trains young officers for the most part. He relies on four pillars of mentoring: family, finances, fitness, and faith. (Photo Courtesy of Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Luis J. Reyes.)

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For Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Luis Reyes, mentoring plays an important in sailor development. The 23½-year veteran now serves as the senior chief instructor for the Hospital Corpsmen Program at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio.

He recently explained how he uses four pillars of mentoring in his interactions with young officers as he focuses on training young officers in the skills of leadership and development -- family, finances, fitness, and faith.

He credits his previous mentors with showing him the way to mentor because they all were interested in him as more than a sailor, but as a person with outside interests and needs.

His goal is to mentor young officers in not only the successes of their challenging military medical careers but also in turning them away from its possible pitfalls.

Reyes recently discussed his mentoring style with the Military Health System communications office.

MHS: Who do you work with?

Senior Chief Petty Officer Reyes: I work alongside a cadre of chiefs, first- and second-class petty officers, and other officers. As chiefs, one of our responsibilities is to train junior officers and help them learn leadership skills.

MHS: How do you introduce yourself to a mentee?

Reyes: My introduction to my mentees is always the same. I tell them who I am, I ask for their expectations of me – their ears perk up at that – I say to them “Give me some time to get to know me,” and I follow up.

MHS: What specific skills do you work on with your charges?

Reyes: There are four things we work on: Family, finances, fitness, and faith. I explain each one and the pitfalls or successes that could happen with each one, so I’m giving both positive and negative examples. I ask them their goals, and then I take those goals on as mine.

MHS: How often do you follow up?

Reyes: I check in periodically. The younger the sailors are, the more likely they are to share with me often. I just take an interest in them. That means an interest beyond their role as sailors.

MHS: What sort of leadership challenges do you find?

Reyes: I look at their priorities to see if they have too many eggs in one basket and try to adjust their expectations and to see that their goals are accomplished. This is one of the highlights of my job.

MHS: What are the best qualities of a mentor?

Reyes: You have to understand where an individual is at in their career or journey, and to be a good listener. You have to understand the different stressors, like a first child or a marriage, and have a genuine concern for the whole person. You have to look beyond just the military person in front of you to see the whole person.

MHS: How does it work?

Reyes: It’s important to acknowledge achievements small or large – simple things like “I got my driver’s license” for young sailors – to bigger accomplishments like graduate school degrees, marriage, and children.

MHS: How did you find a mentor?

Reyes: I looked for people who were leaders who’ve gotten to know me beyond the work environment, for example those who’ve gotten to know my family. The ones I’ve gravitated to don’t just know me as a sailor but for things in my life.

MHS: How do you plan to use these skills after the Navy?

Reyes: It’s really rewarding and is something I’m looking forward to. I’ve looked at Junior ROTC, helping underserved youth in New York City to think bigger, or being a high school or college counselor. But, I have to be where I am now, which is focused on my mentees. The future is open.

MHS: What is your best advice for a mentor?

Reyes: Believe in your mentee and provide support. Establish early on that goals are not always going to be easy to achieve but find creative ways for them to reach their goals. This goes for both positive goals and to those who need reinforcement of positive goals. I’m always mindful that sailors who are struggling need help too. Also, find ways to say ‘yes’ to sailors’ goals. I don’t give them promises but tell them it may take a team to get this done.

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