Hands down, this is arguably my favorite photo taken during my time serving on the Thunderbirds…because of the story behind it. I had just landed from flying in my first public airshow in Fort Smith, Arkansas, circa March, 2006. I was exhilarated and relieved, all at the same time, that I’d made it through the flying portion of the day and I was excited to head to my first ‘autograph line’ with the audience. The very first person I met was this young lady, her name is Sarah. She was full of thoughtful questions for me and we instantly clicked. The Thunderbirds Public Affairs team had to peel us apart, as I wanted to stay and answer all of her questions and continue our lively chat, but there were a lot of other people in line. I slipped her my email address and said to write to me (the ONLY time I ever did that)…and she did write to me.
And guess what? Fast forward 15 years…and she’s now a combat-proven F-15E pilot in our Air Force.
It was her hard work, dedication, grit, and skill that found her in the cockpit of the world’s greatest fighter jet. But, I do like to think I was an itty-bitty positive influence along her journey that said, “keep going, you can do this, I believe in you.” Sharing knowledge about your own unique experiences can help change the lives of others for the better.
When I was growing up I certainly had mentors and people that I looked up to; people that instilled in me that very same mentality that I can do whatever I put my mind to. Fast forward to today, and my current profession still includes motivating and mentoring others. As with Sarah, seemingly small experiences & interactions ended up having a significant effect on my life. You have the power to be that person for someone else. Your actions can make (or break) somebody else’s dreams.
To the young aspiring individuals with big dreams and goals, having someone to look up to and someone whom you admire is important to your development and personal journey. Find someone (past or present) who emulates the characteristics needed to achieve your goals, and learn about the people who motivate you to strive towards greater things. Whether you’re the mentor or the mentee, always remember to hold these relationships & opportunities close to your heart, because they are indeed priceless. You never know, the person you mentor might just end up achieving something greater than either of you thought was possible.