NEW HAVEN, Conn. – On a crisp fall morning in New Haven, Conn., ROTC cadets prepared to take a group picture outside Yale University's Linsly-Chittenden Hall. Standing next to them were decorated Air Force officers, whose footsteps many of them plan to follow.
The cadets, assigned to Air Force ROTC Detachment 009 at Yale, participated in a panel discussion led by 15 seasoned Air Force officers. Panelists discussed engineering, combat control, flight operations and public affairs. They also spoke in-depth about the importance of delegating tasks, assigning responsibility and mentoring Airmen. The discussion gave cadets a rare opportunity to interact with active officers (other than their ROTC instructors) and gain insight into what it takes to be an effective leader in various Air Force career fields.
"Cadets read the news, they see the websites, but they don't always have enough time to actually meet someone and hear their personal story, which could inspire them," said Capt. Estelle Baik, Detachment 009 operations flight commander. "I think everybody's personal stories give the cadets good insight and good preparation for active duty on how to be a good leader."
Cadets who complete the ROTC program at Yale will enter the Air Force as company grade officers at the rank of second lieutenant. The cadets can benefit from the mentorship they receive from the CGOs on the panel, because CGOs can talk about what it feels like to be a junior officer in today's Air Force, Baik said.
"The benefit is that they are able to relate more," said Baik. "They [the cadets] are going to be young second lieutenants. I've heard lessons [from panelists] 'this is what I did as a second lieutenant' and 'this is what I shouldn't have been doing.'"
Maj. William Deme and Capt. Jennifer Pierce, both assigned to the 103rd Airlift Wing, Connecticut Air National Guard, volunteered to lead the panel with hopes of positively influencing future Air Force officers.
"I thought it was fantastic being able to interact with the cadets and other officers as they gave their perspectives," said Deme. "It was good to see that they got breadth and depth of experiences."
While cadets can benefit from being able to relate to CGOs, field grade officers like Deme, who has served in the Air Force for more than 25 years, offer wisdom. Deme said it's important to prepare the next generation of officers.
"Some of the officers who I was interacting with were kind of in the second half or twilight of their career," said Deme. "It's really important that we get out there and make sure tomorrow's leaders are getting the coaching and mentoring today to ensure that they are successful in their careers. These men and women are the future."
Pierce agreed about the importance of mentoring future officers.
"Being able to provide even just a tiny dose of positive impact to those who are coming in after you is a great opportunity," said Pierce. "When you think about the Air Force as a whole, you want to leave it a better organization than it was when you came in."