“Some of My Best Practices Came from Mentors”

Mentors shape an important part of military culture. Their advice ranges from financial and dealing with customers to disciplinary actions. Below, veterans share how mentors helped them during their military and post-service careers:

- Strong mentors helped shape Navy veteran Richard Murphy’s career, especially one of his commanding officers, who taught him about leadership. “He’d get outside and do things in the yard and help us. I like to say that he led from the front, not from the rear. By showing us that he wasn’t afraid to get dirty, he set such a good example for us, so we had more respect for him and we listened to him,” he recalled.

- Marine Sergeant Trevor DeNapoli credits his commanding officers for serving as great mentors during his service. “I was very fortunate. I had very hard, very stiff commanding officers who happened to love me – so it was a great experience. They never put me in a situation that they wouldn’t go into themselves. It all boiled down to top-notch training. They taught me how to be proficient at my job, to be safe, and to go at things the right way,” he said.

- “My first S1 NCOIC always told us to treat paperwork as if it were your own. You’d want your requests/actions etc. processed efficiently and in a timely matter, so do the same for everyone else,” said one Army veteran.

- Gary Jordan credits mentors with teaching him some important skills during his time in the Navy. “I worked in a small unit of nine in Kuwait, and I was the youngest by fifteen years. I like to say I had a Navy mom and dad, because two of my superiors really took an interest in me when I was fresh and green. They guided me along and groomed me for my promotion to E-5,” he said. “That really set me up for when I returned stateside. By watching them, I learned what it takes to be a good leader. They also taught me how to watch out for junior personnel,” he went on. “I never forget their example when I have people working under me now.”

- Navy veteran Tom Knowlton credits mentors with teaching him to consider different perspectives and often served as a valuable sounding boards. “Better to ask for help before you make mistakes,” he observed. He paid it forward when he began a new recruiting assignment with a direct report who was not performing well. “The outgoing recruiter thought this guy was essentially a ‘lost cause,’ but I was new in the role and I decided to give him one last chance,” he recalled. “People learn best when they are helped and shown the way.” Over time, his report’s performance improved, and he ended up staying in his role as a recruiter, eventually rising to the rank of E-7.

- Retired U.S. Marine Corps First Sergeant Doug Turner is quick to credit his mentors. “My First Sergeant gave me a chance as a company gunnery sergeant and as a first sergeant in a military police company. I told him that I wasn’t ready for such a big job, but he assured me that I was. He passed away in Afghanistan after one day in country, and I have been trying to fulfill his legacy since that time. Always give someone an opportunity. There is no such thing as good luck; good luck happens when opportunity meets preparation,” he said.