After the draft ended in 1973 the demographic of the entire military force changed. For the first time in its history, the United States Military found itself populated with a majority of married Soldiers and Sailors (Hall, 2008). Instead of a non-volunteer short-term force, the rank are now filled with a career-minded and “upwardly mobile working class, 96% of whom are graduated from high school, compared to only 84% of the rest of Americans” (p. 28). In Vietnam there was 3,458,072 active duty members of the Armed Forces, in 2000 that number fell to a combined 1,384,344 in all four branches. The bleaching of understanding for the military lifestyle and its demands has been a gradual process. In WWII, 12% of the U.S. population took part in the war; only 2% took part in Vietnam; less than one half of one percent is taking part in Iraq and Afghanistan (Ephron & Childress, 2007, pp. 1). Less of the population is effected or even understands what the military does for them in terms other than the bylines on the five o-clock news.
Today’s Navy deploys 300% more often with 34% less people than in 1990 alone. With that, the Navy is facing a membership of people who may be completely new to the military lifestyle and experience. They may not know all they need to about their responsibilities and the challenges associated with service. They likely do not understand the reciprocal responsibility of the Navy and Her services specifically created to assist the Sailor and his or her family through every stage of their career (Hall, 2008).
This manpower pool is getting younger and more prone to off-duty difficulties as well. Hall (2008) notes that most recruits are “single when they join, but many marry prior to the end of their first enlistment and start having children earlier than their civilian peers” (p. 29). What this creates is a population of more educated, yet younger and married, with young children, active duty parents with jobs that are more dangerous, more time consuming, and demand more family-absence and self-sacrifice than the average civilian career field does. “If someone were asked to design an environment that would be as tough as possible on family systems, it would probably look a lot like the military” (p. x). With decreasing numbers in the ranks and increasing demands of family involvement earlier in life, the Navy’s Sailors are set up for tough challenges before even getting to work. Add decreasing public awareness, political ad social misunderstanding, and less consideration for the military lifestyle to that list as well. Then consider an increasing amount of even more dangerous environments to operate in, done more often, and the need for positive and proactive mentorship has never been more palpable.
Research on Mentoring
Scroggins (2008) wrote that the new generation of America’s workforce was searching for deeper qualitative meaning and quantitative pay-offs from work than individuals from past generations. They seek more external rewards for their labor and see their (self-determined) high-value added to an organization as something that should be rewarded. The U.S. Military does not operate that way, and often the only reward for a job well done is the satisfaction that it has been completed. In order for the leadership of today to learn how to adapt the way the Navy may need to publically recognize performance, a relatively new requirement for some, there needs to be a more open venue for communication and understanding from the incoming and departing leadership. To better assimilate the value systems of the younger leadership with those needed for an always critical but often thankless tasking, mentorship is needed to guide the hearts and minds of new Sailors. Mentorship is needed to define the importance of the mission in understandable formats to enforce the importance of a job well done, external of tangible rewards. Scroggins (2008) insists “for those organizations concerned with the retention of high performing employees, attention to the creation of meaningful work experiences may be a key component to reducing employee intentions to leave and maintaining high performance” (p. 58). In the past, one could get away with only explaining the how of a task, yet more and more these days, it is becoming necessary to explain the why; this adaptation has proved difficult for some of the older leadership who were raised in a time when simply being told to do it was enough to make it happen.
The concept of mentorship however, is largely dependent on what the organizational culture allows it to become. For HELSEACOMBATSRON TWO (HSC2), the East Coast’s Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS), whose mission it is to train and equip the Navy’s newest Helicopter Pilots as Fleet Replacement Pilots (FPRs) bound for Operational Squadrons, the mentoring necessity has become a controversial issue. Many of the Instructor Pilots (IPs), having grown up as leaders in a system without mentorship, and therefore needing them to discover the facts and follies of Navy life on their own, value a system where FRPs are weeded out of the Navy for the perceived weakness of asking questions and needing additional help or resources to solve problems. “Questions and challenges are expected and respected in a democratic society and condemned and inappropriate within the [military] society” (Hall, 2008, p. 109). These questions and challenges can range from needing extra time to find housing for their families or off-duty alcohol incidence, to needing extra time for study for flight events. A more positive leadership responsiveness to the needs of the Navy’s newest (and therefore the future) leadership would prove to benefit the FRS, the receiving squadron, and the entire Navy insofar as they could learn more quickly, and correctly, to deal with life’s challenges whose solutions may escape them in the haze of new environmental demands their career field has created for them.
Shore, Sy, and Strauss (2006) suggested that leadership’s responsiveness to employees’ needs and requests had a direct correlation to job satisfaction, organizational commitment, organizational citizenship, and job performance, and an inverse relationship to turnover. Researchers van Vuuren, de Jong, and Seydel (2006) would agree with Shore, Sy, and Struass (2006). In their Dutch study of a telecommunication firm, they found that direct managerial mentorship created meaning for the employees in how they defined their jobs and their personal lives. It promoted organizational commitment, and therefore a more efficient and higher quality work environment. In the Johnson, Lall, Homes, Huwe, and Nordlud (2001) study of Naval Academy Midshipmen, a mentor was defined as a person who acts as a guide, role model, and teacher to a younger, less experienced protégé (p. 28). Given this loose definition, mentorship can only be as good as the relationship between the mentor and protégé, and the perceived bond between protégé and his or her organization.
Research shows that effective mentorship not only increases the experience and commitment of the protégé, but also can effectively save the organization money in the form of training, recruitment, and retention. Daula and Smith (1992) have substantiated that there are far-reaching implications for resourcing and holding onto high cost (and therefore quality) people in the US Military. Daula and Smith (1992) found that retaining high quality people, even at a higher initial expense, has a positive influence on overall readiness and a lowering of mission cost, loss, and failure. This means that everyone wins when a squadron has a good mentorship program: the family, the Sailor, the unit, the Fleet, and the Nation’s security and its tax payers.
Not only would HSC2 need to create a positive mentorship experience for the FRPs, but HSC2 would also be required to ensure that the IP mentors believed in the process and were optimistic enough in its potential for success that they passed this attitude onto their protégés. This author believes that this may be the biggest challenge to the process at HSC2. Time and again, ideas for creating a more supportive atmosphere for the FRPs and their families have met with powerful resistance from the top down. Mentorship at the FRS will have to become not just the first-impression, but also the lasting connection to the culture and organization of the Navy.
The Current Situation at HSC2
Recall, that an FRP has most likely only been an Officer for less than two years, and of that 100% has been as a student. The FRS is the first place in the traditional Naval Aviator’s career where he or she will begin to transition from the college student and flight student mentality to an independently operating Officer able to make his or her own housing and general lifestyle decisions unafforded to earlier staged students. At earlier stages, to include many commissioning sources, students are told where to live, how to dress, where to eat, where to be, and when to be there. At the FRS, they are just told when their next flight is and what they must know. They basically check into the Command and told to show up the next Monday ready for class. No guidance, no welcome aboard, no phone number of a helpful person to call. They must figure the rest out on their own, including finding the information they will test on. It is shameful.
It is incredulous that a more robust effort has not been made to initiate these young men and women into the fraternal workings of Naval Aviation prior to their first day showing up at their Operational Squadron. At that point, after FRS graduation, it is literally sink or swim for them, and in the opinion of this author, is too late to effectively absorb all the fleet wide and family support information they would have already been in need for the 6-8 months they were at the FRS as FRPs.
What is needed is a plan to begin introducing these ideas and solutions in a digestible way to men and women whose intellect may already be taxed to the limit by the severity and pace of their previous and current FRS training. This can easily be done by creating a culture of trust among the students, relieving some of the stress of the unknown lifestyle they will face at their ultimate destination (the Operation Squadron), and welcoming not only them but their families into the Navy family as well.
The Plan and How HSC2 and the Entire Navy Benefits From It
Navy Fridays start with a 0900 IP Meeting where the IP staff gets together and talks about the FRP students one-by-one comparing noted about the classes and flights that week. Anyone who flew or worked with them that week speaks, bringing up strong and weak points, and highlighting items the team feels the students should improve upon during the next week’s trial. At the end of the IP meeting, everyone knows what the FRP needs to work on and what he or she is doing well. Everyone that is but the FRPs who need the information. There is no official venue to pass this knowledge for improvement and culture for talking about Safety onto the FRPs. Following the IP Meeting, there is an All Officer Meeting (AOM) where all the commissioned Officers in HSC2 meet and talk about the latest maintenance trends, up-coming events, and generally conduct business that involves the entire command. Generally at the conclusion of the AOM, minus cleaning up issues that may have come up, work is done for the day and the squadron completes Friday’s workday around 1200 – thus the term Navy Fridays.
The initial implementation of a high quality mentorship program at HSC2 will require the involvement of four senior IPs and the entire FRP roster. Post-AOM, instead of releasing the staff and students for the weekend, there should be an additional meeting for the FRPs. This get-together should include sterilized notes from the IP meeting and information that will help the FRPs transition to operational squadron life. That is, all the data about the procedures which were overlooked, maneuvers that were performed poorly, and information about what FRPs got wrong or right that week should be cleared of the actual names of those involved and passed, in discussion format, to all the FRPs.
For example, the group leader would say, “This week a couple of you may have had some trouble with your Autorotations… There are a few techniques to get this right we can talk about here…” and then move from that to technique discussion and mia culpa dialogue between the FRPs themselves. They will be encouraged to talk about what they learned, how they remember to do certain steps, even which IPs concentrate on which aspects of flight more. The ideal outcome would be for the students to begin to buy-into the Naval Aviation culture where Aviators freely talk about what they have done incorrectly or unsafely in a genuine effort to prevent others from having to learn the hard lessons that may have had to be discovered by injury or death otherwise.
Implementing the Plan.
The initial meetings should be chaired by the senior IPs and consist of discussing the safety issues, and studying concerns and issues that the IP Meetings brought up. It is not the intent for the meeting to berate the students for poor performance; they would have gotten plenty of that during and after the actual flight. The scheme here should be to open the floor to frank discussions of what works and what does not in the learning and performing process. The venue is informal with drinks and snacks allowed, unlike the previously held IP and AOM Meetings. As the IP summarized the week’s concerns and the next week’s challenges for the students, he or she will facilitate the intra-group dialogue between the FRPs. Because the FRPs are all at different stages of their syllabus, each brings his or her own perspective to the meeting in regard to which flights worked well, which study techniques or computer systems took extra time, or what surprised them in flight.
With this initially forced dialogue the FRPs can exchange notes and techniques from their own experience and pass it on to the newer FRPs. This will also engage all the FRPs in the process of the Naval Aviation vision of teamwork for making Operational Readiness safer and more effective. If the FRS instills these values as early as possible in the cultural mind of the FRPs, the newest of the Fleet’s leadership, then the strength and value of that culture can take root and be more effective sooner.
Continuing the Effort.
After the initial three weeks, the FRP meeting will move from IP Chairmanship to a Student Union Model. Herein, the senior FRP will assume duties as the FRP Lead. He or she will set up the meeting, the projector, podium, and interview the Lead IP for information to pass to the FRP Meeting after the IP Meeting takes place. This FRP will be within six weeks of graduation, but no closer than two. He or she will also select, and train the FRP in the syllabus behind him or her who will take the position once he or she has graduated and moved to a fleet squadron.
A ten-week rotating schedule of topic-driven guest speakers from the neighboring operational squadrons should be adhered to in order to ensure maximum exposure of all topics to all FRPs during their, typically six-month long, schooling at the FRS. Guest speakers will be invited to offer question and answer sessions “from the fleet” wherein the FRPs can talk to people who are out actually doing the mission they are training to do. Again, giving the training meaning and value. Visiting fleet pilots, also junior officers, can describe squadron life, deployments, help and support services, mission readiness, or any other issues that may be troubling the already task-saturated FRP students. This is also the first opportunity for the fleet squadrons to meet the incoming pilots and they should be encouraged to begin the process of selecting Command Sponsors for the FRPs before they show up to the squadron. The sponsors should then be in a position to enlighten the FRPs about what to expect, help them with housing or rental decisions, and talk about deployment schedules and squadron-specific issues that would benefit the FRP and his or her family (if applicable).
Optimally, once per quarter, this FRP meeting will be held off-site and open to the spouses of the FRPs. This meeting will be chaired by the HSC2 OMBUDSMAN, these are all veteran spouse volunteers with special training on family support. Along with the OMBUDSMAN, the meeting should include the Presidents of the various local squadrons’ Officer Spouses Clubs (OSCs). According to personal experience and communication with many of HSC2’s current FRPs, there is no program in place to introduce the spouses to the demands and expectations the Navy will put on them as well as their husbands. These FRP/Family meetings will allow the OSC Presidents to meet and greet the newly incoming Officers and spouses and begin to help massage the relationship between the family support network available and realized, or unrealized as-of-yet, needs of the new Navy families. These experienced ladies can help guide the new families through neighborhood and school selection, filling out the pounds of paperwork needed transitioning from a civilian to military lifestyle in regard to medical, dental, educational, and other benefits and requirements that will be new to most of them. Summary
Commitment to the Navy and the mission are critical to safety and operational effectiveness. Leadership’s responsiveness through open communication was found to be significantly and positively related to job satisfaction and organizational commitment (Scroggins, 2008; Shore, et al., 2006; van Vuuren, et al., 2006). A mentor, acting as a counselor, leader, and communication venue for career and personal concerns would be able to accomplish great things for all aspects of everyone involved from the Sailor and his or her family to the Navy and its mission (Hall, 2008). Open communication for the protégé and mentor serves this requirement with seamless efficiency for the Chain of Command as well. He or she would also intervene on behalf of the subordinate in the case of important requests and follow-through with the response, increasing the perception by the employee that the organization cares about him or her, thereby encouraging reciprocity. Van Vuuren, et al. (2006) summarize the need for mentorship in the Navy best when they assert that effective top-down communication in an organization, followed by the mere perception that feedback was encouraged and listened to, would contribute to employees’ affective organizational commitment.
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