JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- What began as a virtual mentoring session at a conference led to a lasting mentor-mentee relationship between two Air Guard brigadier generals and two local siblings.
In February, Brig. Gen. Charles ‘Chuck’ Walker, director, National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations, and Brig. Gen. Christopher ‘Mookie’ Walker, special assistant to the director of the Air National Guard for diversity and inclusion, volunteered to be speed mentors during the virtual 2021 Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Conference.
The BEYA STEM Conference brings together K-12 and college students from across the nation to learn about STEM career opportunities and network with private industry experts, government leaders, and military professionals.
Upon conclusion of the speed mentoring session, the generals offered their contact information to the mentees. Several days later, 16-year-old Jalen Vincent emailed Brig. Gen. ‘Mookie' Walker requesting more guidance on how to pursue an Air Force career by way of the U.S. Air Force Academy.
“When it came to the questions he asked, they were questions I usually hear from adults or even other Airmen,” said Brig. Gen. ‘Mookie' Walker. “I knew there was something about this kid. He was a diamond in the rough.”
Walker soon discovered that Jalen’s parents were retired military and a reservist currently serving on active orders nearby in the National Capital Region. That’s when he enlisted the help of his wingman, Brig. Gen. Chuck Walker, to form a mentorship network for Jalen.
“Mentoring should not be a solo act,” said Brig. Gen. Chuck Walker. “There are some things that I do better than Mookie, some things he does better than me. Together, we provide an awesome combination of mentorship. Let’s partner with each other, build on our strengths, give people different perspectives, and multiply our ability to be mentors.”
In addition to working as a mentor team, the generals also sought the support of Jalen’s parents, retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Jean Vincent and U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Vanessa Vincent. Both Walkers emphasized the importance of involving the entire family in mentorship to help build a strong foundation for a child’s future to grow.
Soon after receiving parental permission, Brig. Gen. Chuck Walker and Brig. Gen. ‘Mookie’ Walker were invited to dinner at the Vincent family home. There they met Jalen’s younger sister, Joanna, another teen with ambitions set for the U.S. Armed Forces. Recognized as another “diamond in the rough”, the generals adapted their mentorship to benefit Joanna as well and have since adopted both siblings as mentees.
“Mentorship cannot be a monologue,” said Brig. Gen. ‘Mookie’ Walker. “We had to listen to what they wanted, and then tailor our mentorship to reach their goals. We now have a real relationship with this entire family.”
According to Air Force Manual 36-2643, Airmen should seek mentor and mentee opportunities throughout their career as it is “an essential ingredient in developing well-rounded, professional and competent future leaders” and “an inherent responsibility of leadership.”
When asked about the benefits of mentoring, Brig. Gen. ‘Mookie’ Walker believes both mentor and mentee benefit equally from the relationship.
“We always talk about the benefits from the mentor to the mentee, but we infrequently talk about the benefits the mentor receives,” said Brig. Gen. ‘Mookie' Walker. “Younger generations think totally different than the way we grew up. The more we mentor, the more we will understand them, and will help us develop our leadership across our commands and build trust by showing we have an open door and ability to listen.”
As for Brig. Gen. Chuck Walker, he believes that getting involved in the community and speaking with younger generations is key to strengthening diversity across senior ranks.
“We have a lot of diversity in our Armed Forces, but we don’t have that diversity at the senior leadership levels,” said Brig. Gen. Chuck Walker. “This is a prime example that, if you’re willing to put the time in, there are many folks with potential that are looking to be mentored. We need generals to get out into their community, talk with younger generations, and help build up future leaders. Because if a young person wants to know how to become a general in the Air Force, they shouldn’t ask a staff sergeant, tech. sergeant, captain, or major. They need to ask a general.”
Finding Air Force mentorship opportunities has never been easier with the launch of the Air Force Recruiting Service’s GO Inspire program in January 2021. Through this initiative, general officers are matched with teams of top Airmen to inform, influence, and inspire young Americans for military service in their local communities.
To this day, Brig. Gen. Chuck Walker and Brig. Gen. ‘Mookie’ Walker have maintained a consistent mentor-mentee relationship with the Vincent family and plan to grow this network for many years to come.