Networking proves beneficial

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Mark Helleksen
  • 309th Commodities Maintenance Group
While you perform your daily duties, do you know there are groups working on your behalf? Did you know that many of the positive changes you enjoy in your work environment, benefits and treatment were secured through their efforts? These are not muscular men in capes or any other force of nature, but rather, professional organizations formed to do good things for their members and the people they represent. There are many professional organizations on Hill AFB and several of them are looking out for you.

My experience with professional organizations started with my transition to the University of Minnesota. I graduated from a class of 40 in a town of 1,200 people. When I was preparing to enter the electrical engineering program, I had no idea where to live and did not know any of the 58,000 students enrolled there. The summer I was to move to Minneapolis, I received a letter from an engineering fraternity inviting me to live in their house near campus. I accepted their invitation and enjoyed many benefits.

The first benefit was living with 25 men with a common goal: graduating from engineering school. I made friends in the house quickly and there were mentors living with me who had conquered the same courses I was faced with. The transition to the big city and the university were eased by a quick association with the fraternity members. We shared chores, cooking and cleaning, and had our meals together. In the evenings, there were people a few doors away who were studying the same courses as I and others who had already completed the courses.

Having these resources to help me through was priceless. There were fraternity members who had cars and they provided transportation when needed. I did not have my own transportation and needed rides for appointments.  I met engineers who had graduated and were working in the industry and remember thinking they must be super-human. I could not imagine completing the course of study as it seemed too difficult and too long. Seeing these graduates gave me hope.

Jean Claude Kily, the Olympic skiing champion, said, "The best and fastest way to learn a sport is to watch and imitate a champion." I felt the same way about my studies. My close association with people who had achieved my goals helped me progress towards achieving them. I had committed to joining the Air Force before I entered college, but for those who had not, the networking opportunities were unlimited. Our alumni worked in engineering firms throughout the Midwest and they enjoyed helping members find employment. My first association with a professional organization was a very positive one and enabled me to adapt to college life and succeed in my studies.

There have been many opportunities to join professional organizations since entering the Air Force. The Company Grade Officers' Council, Logistics Officers' Association, and the Air Force Association are a few that I have been involved with. My membership in these organizations has enabled me to get to know peers who work outside my unit. Networking is seriously underrated. When in need of help from an agency, knowing someone in that organization to call for help works very well.

There is a Japanese proverb that states "None of us is as smart as all of us." Friends tell me that it's especially true in my case. Seriously, association with professional organizations does help creatively solve problems and overcome obstacles that individuals cannot overcome alone. Professional organizations also allow junior members to watch and imitate champions as more senior members are accessible to answer questions and help junior members. The Air Force Association educates the public about aerospace and airpower, advocates for a strong national defense and supports Air Force members, military and civilian, and the Air Force community. That includes representing all of us in Washington, D.C. 

Through my Air Force Association contacts, I became involved in a program called Partners in Education. Through this program, I mentored 15-20 high school seniors and they visited MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. once a week. These students were honors students in math, physics and chemistry. I showed them around the base and gave them hands on experience to help them understand the concepts they learned in high school. Their experience with the Air Force was positive and it was enabled by the Air Force Association. I had no intention of being a recruiter, but I feel that these high achievers may have been influenced to give their talents to the Air Force because of their exposure to program.

"Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success," said former President Henry Ford. Professional organizations allow members to come together, keep together and work together for success.  Visit some of the organizations that are working to support you and consider joining them in mentoring, networking and promoting issues beneficial to you. You will be better through your involvement and the organization will be better because you are there.