I learned In the Moment Mentorship in the Air Force, why it matters to you

I learned In the Moment Mentorship in the Air Force, why it matters to you

I learned “In the Moment mentorship” from an Air Force Physician. I’ll share my experience and explain why this style of mentorship matters to every transitioning Veteran and every CEO hiring Veterans today.

I saw her run through the double doors carrying the big red crash box. I took off after her. I grabbed the handle and said, “I can help”. We ran through the hospital to an exam room several floors above the ER. We ran fast.

When we entered the room two people were already doing CPR, we set the box down and without realizing it, we backed against the wall. There was a med tech in the room, he was on the wall. The Docs were cranking away.

The room was small, without much in it. There was an exam table, a glass two-door case filled with supplies, five people, and the patient. The room was not equipped to support what was happening. 

I remember every detail of that moment. I can see where I stood, and how the Docs were positioned on the patient.

This was 27 years ago. I was a SSgt in the United States Air Force. I was a Pararescueman doing a rotation in the Emergency Room at Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. I was there to get more clinical experience. I took away much more than that.

Pararescuemen are trauma specialists tasked with rescuing pilots shot down in combat. USAF Rescue teams are the best in the world at entering difficult situations and bringing hurt people home.

Upon entering the room things turned surreal. The Doctors opted to crack the man’s chest. They confidently and quickly created a large incision and they spread the man’s rib cage open. They started doing open heart cardiac compressions. As you can imagine, even for physicians this is a crux move. I watched them make this decision confidently and act. Cracking a man’s chest in a simple exam room doesn’t happen often. It happened in front of me. I watched it. I heard it.

While both docs had their hands in this man’s chest one of them yelled out loudly, “I need something to grab a sample with”…

It was then that I fully recognized that all three of us were against the wall. Literally, our butts – backs, and even our flat palms were against the wall. I think each of us was thinking, “they know what they’re doing – we need to stay out of the way”. I waited for a few seconds, then I couldn’t wait any longer. 

Not helping was not an option for me. Assuming I was the least medically qualified person in the room – I acted. I looked for some way to help. I stepped forward, opened the glass doors and grabbed a 30cc syringe. I tore open the package, pulled off the cap, threw the syringe on the floor and stepped forward handing the doc the plastic cover and cap. (Effectively giving him a sterile container for the sample). 

At that point, he said, “come here”. 

For the next 20 minutes, I assisted. I bagged the patient. I forced IV fluids by squeezing the bag. I reset the IV when I noticed it was hard to infuse the fluids. I followed the physician’s commands. I remember being pretty worried I might do something wrong. My fear was secondary to a stronger need to act. 

We fought hard to save this man. The other two techs never left the wall. 

After 20 min the doc called it. He looked at the clock, stated the time, and turned his head towards me. I’ll never forget it…

He said, “Who ARE You?” 

He’d noticed that I wasn’t in scrubs like everyone else in the room. I had an AF flight suit on, with a Jolly Green patch on my shoulder and a maroon beret folded up in my thigh pocket. I had flight wings and jump wings on my name tag. I had spit-shined Jump boots on. I was 28.

I mentioned I was a PJ (short for Pararescueman) in the hospital doing a rotation in the ER. He paused and then he said, “glove up”…

For the next 15 minutes, he gave me a detailed anatomy lesson of the man’s still warm chest. He explained what he and the other doctor had been doing and why. He placed both of my hands in the correct position to do open heart cardiac massage and showed me the proper pressure and technique. 

His hands were placed over mine gently compressing the man’s heart simulating a natural rhythm. He guided me through the chest showing me the major arteries and veins I’d need to be concerned with when dealing with gunshot wounds or penetrating trauma. He spoke to me as a peer. Not a student, a peer. That mattered. He gave me the name of each structure, the importance of each, and shared why I needed to know it in my position as a combat trauma specialist.

Then he casually changed my life. He said, “that was some Strong Work you did today”… He left the room and I never saw him again. 

I retired from the Air Force 12 years later and I’ve been in business for the last 16 years. One of my passions is to support today’s Veterans as they transition into the corporate world. I enjoy leveraging and benchmarking my experiences to help. 

As I replay the events that day, I see several correlations to Veteran transitions. I recognize several aspects that matter to Veterans and CEOs. Both can benchmark the downstream career outcomes that moment had on me.

First, as a Veteran transitioning into the corporate world. You must learn to “Chase Movement”. Had I not reacted to the instinctive turn towards movement – I would have missed this experience. 

By offering to help – I was placed in a situation where I could keep helping at a higher level. My action created a positive loop. The doctor saw what I could do, assumed I could do more and supported his assumption by mentoring me at that very moment. 

I’m certain that day helped cement my bias towards action. It’s a mantra that continues to create opportunity today.

I worked for a Healthcare IT company years later and recognized the pattern again. There was an uptick in global activity. I volunteered for several 3-week engagements in London to help with high-visibility work. I shared with senior leaders that I would be willing to move permanently if needed. I asked that they consider me if the opportunity ever arose. Within 6 months I had an Expat assignment. My family and I moved to Sydney Australia for two years. It was amazing. I doubt that assignment would have been offered had I not shown value in the earlier trips and then volunteered to do more. 

When you transition to your new corporate position watch for activity. Watch for groups of senior leaders booking meeting rooms. Listen for the critical work being done. Where are the senior leaders and the teams they trust meeting? How does the organization do annual planning? How do senior leaders support that planning process? Who supports them? What matters most to the CEO? Offer to take notes in those meetings. Learn.

Once you see where that big corporate red crash box is, grab the handle and help carry it. Run fast… It IS that simple. 

Trust your gut when the opportunity comes. For a Veteran who finds themselves in a business “exam room” with a leader needing help – watch for the simple stuff that nobody’s doing and then lean forward. Listen for what’s needed and find a way to engage. I promise you it will work. The fact that you acted will be noticed. 

For CEOs trying to build better transition programs supporting Veterans – I share this.

I see a lot of corporate and nonprofit activity today building transition programs. I’m happy to see dedicated military transition leadership in companies like Boeing, Oracle, Amazon, LiN and others.

These programs and dedicated recruitment and transition program leaders are very important. They must be publicly supported. However, leaders must engage for any program to create lasting value. Program management alone is ineffective without visible leadership and mentorship engagement. Senior leadership must touch the veteran in some way.

I strongly believe In the Moment mentorship is key to a successful veteran intake model. Here’s why. 

The most critical need for Veterans is helping them maintain the same levels of confidence they had while in the service. When the physician took the time to mentor me, treat me like a peer and share his knowledge – it changed me.

By saying that if I ever needed to do open heart massage here’s how it’s done, it said to me – he thinks I can do this. I learned that it’s actually not hard to do once the heart is in your hands… 

The chance that I would ever need this specific skill was absolutely zero. The effect of showing me how to do it was immeasurable in building my confidence. That confidence ultimately saved lives later in my career. More importantly, I saw the direct correlation between taking action and being recognized for taking action. That’s the power that In the Moment mentors can have.

For 27 years I’ve tried to give back and share what was given to me. Whenever I see someone step away from the wall and show their potential, I recognize it by saying, “Strong Work”. I load them up from that point forward.

Imagine you’re a CEO and you have the opportunity to spend time with a Veteran who’s recently transitioned. You personally set the meeting up. You take the opportunity to share what you’re doing, what your problems are, what keeps you up at night. You get into the tactical detail but you also share the strategic implications as you execute the corporate vision for the year.

You explain the structures, and you share why it’s important that when the Veteran is the CXO, they understand the implications.

I promise you this. You will have more impact at that moment in their career than anyone else they’ve spoken to throughout their transition.

Your trust in them, your expectations of them, your peer-centric sharing of real world details will unlock their confidence and set them free. Trust this.

If you see a promising Veteran transition to your team, take them to your next C-Suite meeting or an important sales meeting with a key client and watch what happens. Watch what happens when your customer learns how committed you are to mentoring veterans. 

I know this to be true. The fact that the AF physician took the time to mentor me spoke volumes of his leadership and his mentoring passion. 

Most people would have been worried about their careers after an event of that nature. How special a person was he – to massage a human heart and then mentor a young Airman – influencing his life – all within the span of an hour. This isn’t about time expenditure, all of this happened in less than an hour. This is about commitment, passion, and an honest belief in your power to influence others deeply with In the Moment mentorship.

The advice is the same if you’re the CEO. Find the Veteran movement. Where are they? What are they trying to do? What red box are they carrying? 

How can you help them run faster? 

As you create your onboarding model periodically place your Veterans in 1:1 situations with leaders who put the Veteran’s hands on the heart of important issues. Share your Vets proudly with customers during important sales meetings so they understand the value of relationships. It will light the afterburners on your program’s success. 

There’s a good chance that in a few years from now that Vet you spoke to will be riding to work in their self-flying car. They’ll connect to the cloud via a facially recognized gesture and while thought posting on LiN what your earlier mentorship meant to them – they’ll wish they could thank you personally.

Shortly after that, within minutes a very nice bottle of Speyside single malt Scotch will arrive on your doorstep via drone.

The card on the package will read, “Strong Work”

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Written by Brian Stephens
An entrepreneur with a proven record in large-scale Workforce Digitization efforts, Business Development and Sales.A skill set born in a Boston-based start-up (Knowledge Impact) as the Western Region Services Director in their Silicon Valley office. My skills were then fully tempered by 10 years of Healthcare IT Digitization (and 4X growth) at Cerner Corporation. I am a Veteran, a natural problem solver, and connector. I have an eye for talent and enjoy being a mentor. I am a team focused leader with a larger sense of humor than ego. I'm equally at home in early Start-up and Fortune 100 environments. With Synthesis-level experience in Digital Adoption and Change Management, I've developed models for millions of end users in the UK, Malaysia, Canada, Australia, Berlin and in the US. Each digitization project was culturally unique, fiscally sensitive and go-live driven. Successfully selling and executing hundreds of multi-year digitization projects gives me a vast experience base to draw upon.I make connections and create successful B2B opportunity and mutually beneficial sales relationships with my partners.
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