Mentors make their mark

  • Published
  • By Sara Pavich
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
On a sunny Tuesday at the Ramstein Golf Course, female Airmen of all ranks and ages gathered for a discussion. In a crowded room, women spoke and listened, relying on each other's knowledge in an effort to learn how to tackle every day challenges.

This discussion was one of the increasingly popular events of Let's Connect, a program dedicated to establishing mentorship ties between women in the Air Force. The forum is designed to confront issues unique to women balancing a military career and a personal life at home. It is the brainchild of Chief Master Sgt. JoAnne Bass, 86th Operations Group superintendent, who recognized the need to strengthen connections between female Airmen after reflecting on her own experiences as a wife, mother and Airman.

"We have set standards, and those don't change based on whether you're a female or not," said Bass. "We still have a responsibility to do everything every other Airman has to do. However, as female Airmen, in particular, it can be challenging to balance all of it, so if we can help through our experiences, we've done our job."

"Let's Connect" has three separate forums, each working towards the larger goal of progressing professional lives through mentorship. In addition to the panel discussions attended by all ranks of Airmen, there is a program dedicated to connecting with female Airmen living in the dorms and a another program briefing at the First Term Airman Center on Ramstein.

In Tuesday's seminar, four female panelists spoke about the importance of physical health and wellness. The discussion began with the assurance that any subject related to the topic was safe to speak about without judgment. Airmen shared concerns, thoughts, problems and suggestions openly with one another.

The seminar was the first of four of the "New Year, New You" topic meant to explore the Four Pillars of Resiliency with female Airmen, the first of which is the "physical pillar." Panelists discussed healthy exercise and nutrition habits that could lead to greater success in the workplace. Each month, a new topic is chosen for exploration carefully in regards to the relevant role it plays in the careers of every Airman.

"Our number one goal is to develop Airmen professionally," said Bass. "And if they get some 'personal' development out of it, that's great too."

While the topics that are discussed are generally relevant to both men and women, many can be difficult to discuss with someone of the opposite gender.

"They touched on a lot of topics I wanted to ask questions about," said Airman 1st Class Shayna Woodin, course systems technician at the 603d Air Communications Squadron. "We're more prone to talk about things here that we wouldn't say in front of guys."

Providing a comfortable environment was a major reason Bass wanted to create a program that facilitates mentoring relationships between women.

"There can be fundamental differences in the way we as a woman understand, respond, and communicate. Our goal is to share with that younger generation of women how we dealt with these types of challenges," said Bass.

Bass saw "Let's Connect" fully developed with the help of 12 female committee members, all senior enlisted leaders with diverse backgrounds and Air Force professions. She originally approached these women with concerns about the outreach outlets available to female Airmen new to the Air Force. According to Bass, she did not know at the time how she could help, but with the initial vision and collaboration with the other ladies, we knew we were onto something great. .

Chief Master Sgt. Lisa Boothe, 86th Comptroller Squadron and wing staff agencies superintendent was among the first to onboard with Bass' idea.

"We brought in other females who had the same type of passion we did and the same type of connection as women," said Boothe. "The important part for us was to connect as women and have the same mission and goal in mind."

Over the course of several meetings, the women established their mission statement and priorities and eventually created the "Let's Connect" forum, said Bass.

"We just clicked as a team," said Boothe. "We've been doing great ever since."

From these fledgling beginnings, Let's Connect has ballooned into a mentorship forum for all female Airmen. According to Bass, it's important for everyone, regardless of rank or position, to have a mentor to provide guidance and support.