Supervising turtles

  • Published
  • By Maj. Kenneth O'Neil
  • 17th Security Forces Squadron
Anyone who has watched the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet may be able to see the analogy I'm about to make between first-term Airmen and newly hatched sea turtles. Like newly hatched sea turtles, newcomer Airmen face similar vulnerabilities. 

This analogy is not meant to be degrading to our young Airmen, but is meant to show how challenging the beginning can be for any newcomer. There are lots of obstacles, threats, and challenges that stand between the newly hatched sea turtle and its ocean habitat. Similarly, the first-term Airman has many of the same obstacles, threats and challenges in order to make it through his or her challenging first enlistment. In my
commander position, I've had the pleasure of watching several of our squadron's newly assigned Airmen "walk across the stage" and complete the First-Term Airman Center

It took a little more than a week for our new Airmen to get through the FTAC program, whereas it takes the newly hatched sea turtle about the same amount of time to break out of its shell, climb through its sandy nesting spot to the surface of the beach. 

Coincidence? I don't think so. Whether the newcomer pops its head up on a sandy beach or into the front doors of its first unit of assignment...the journey begins. 

If you've ever watched a documentary on baby sea turtles, ten minutes into the program you have to wonder how the newborn sea turtles make it to the water. The turtles' chances of survival increase exponentially when they're in the ocean, but I learned
that in order to get there they must "follow the light." 

Evidently, the turtles follow the reflection of the moon on the water and that bright light
leads them to the ocean. Our newly minted officers and junior Airmen also follow a light of sorts. They follow the light set by their first supervisor. Our supervisor in this analogy can be the new Airman's rater or military training leader. 

The supervisors must take a personal interest in helping the young Airmen make it through the "beach" and make it to the "ocean." 

They have to mentor, tutor and teach them how to overcome the obstacles they'll encounter in their first enlistment and be strong and bright enough to guide the young Airmen back on track if they stray off course. 

Newborn sea turtles may discriminate light intensities and head for the biggest, brightest light on the open horizon. 

An involved supervisors' light must be, let's say, brighter to Airmen than the other lights that they'll encounter along their journey, especially the lights that say "Joe's Bar" or local temptations that will pull the young Airmen off course. A good supervisor's light is
powered by his or her example, adherence to the Air Force Core Values, and his or her leadership potential. If the supervisor is stepping out and showing enthusiasm towards the mission, the junior Airmen will too. 

If the supervisors don't, well, the Airman is less apt to. The supervisor's light must continually show that we are all Airmen, 24-hours a day, 7-days per week. The light always reminds them that we do not merely have "jobs," and that trainees are not merely "students," but rather we are all very unique volunteers in the profession of arms and serve in the greatest Air Force on the planet. If the supervisor's light pales in comparison to other lights, the junior Airman may get pulled in another direction, away from the supervisor's light, and into places they do not want to be. Some of these lessthan-optimum places end junior Airmen careers early. 

Newborn sea turtles rely on their "instinct" to make it through the sandy beach to the light over the water, trying to overcome the sand dunes, the hungry sea gulls, or the curious 8-year old tourist. In comparison, our junior Airmen rely on the "example" and "intervention" of their supervisor. 

The junior Airmen must pass their CDCs, successfully complete their stan-eval for their duty position, pay off their government travel card, pass inspections and tests, and avoid the off-duty ethical and legal traps set out on their beaches in order to make it. 

The first-term Airman shouldn't be left to do all of this alone. That's why the supervisor is so important. 

He or she must be there for them...guiding them all of the way. 

For all you supervisors out the light to our junior Airmen. Shine so bright that they will want to follow you, and not follow other distractions. 

For all of you junior Airmen out there, follow them...they'll take you places.