A mighty mentoring tool

  • Published
  • By Maj. Chris Stephens
  • Air Force Joint Mobility Fellowship Program
Get mentored or get left behind. Air Force development opportunities are becoming more competitive and without proper guidance an officer stands the chance of missing important milestones.

While still a mystery to most, Air Mobility Command's ribbon chart is a mighty, yet highly underutilized developmental tool for mentorship. Officers must embrace this tool to ensure they understand opportunities and expectations while being an active participant in their career progression.

Ribbon chart 101
In basic form, the ribbon chart is a personalized development plan offering a visual representation of the individual's past, present and future experiences. Lt. Col. Barry King, AMC officer development, promotes this tool "as the key to affect mentoring, which affects broadening opportunities, which affects career progression!"

Initially, the ribbon chart was designed to facilitate mentorship through a single page tool aimed at increasing awareness among officers about developmental opportunities. The ultimate goal is to equip officers to lead in a variety of mission sets.

Recently its use has extended to application packages for competitive developmental programs in AMC and beyond. In these venues, it can provide a quick snapshot of an officer's experiences, performance, and future development.

Who Should Have One?
Officers who don't already have a ribbon chart need to ask their supervisor to help create one. When building the ribbon chart, supervisors should coordinate with the individual's flight commander, squadron commander, and/or career field manager during the process. This will help synchronize efforts and ensure the officer receives accurate information on leadership intentions and expectations.

Officers should be prepared to discuss their ribbon chart during performance feedback sessions, performance report close out, when filling out their Airman Development Plan, when applying for competitive programs, and when eligible for promotion.

What's Inside?
Officers need to be aware and understand the information contained within this tool. Furthermore, supervisors and mentors should become familiar with the opportunities afforded to an individual at each level of their career. This will help them outline and explain the multitude of options available.

The nine basic sections of the ribbon chart are described in detail in the user guide located on AMC's Air Force Portal page. It is important not to customize the ribbon chart format - any additional unique, value-added experiences can be captured in the notes section.

One of the most powerful features of the ribbon chart is the ability to visualize future career progression. Important milestones and timing windows are depicted in Section 5. This view gives an officer a framework from which to plan career decisions. Officers can avoid timing blunders and missed opportunities by utilizing this section effectively. Broadening opportunities such as command, developmental education, and staff can be chronologically pieced together with accurate timing blocks. Career milestones such as developmental education preference worksheets (Air Force form 3849), promotion recommendation forms, and other eligibility zones can also be plotted.

To make the ribbon chart accurate and meaningful, an officer seeking mentorship should have career goals in mind with related milestones. Officers should also be prepared with questions on developmental programs. For example, in the "Special Programs" block of the ribbon chart (Section 6), an officer may ask a mentor what opportunities are available for their career path (e.g., what a STARNOM tour entails). Supervisors and mentors who can explain these programs will help make an officer aware and help them prepare, increasing their competitive edge. Too often, officers learn about an opportunity too late in their career, miss their window to compete, or do not meet prerequisites for the programs desired.

Get Started!
Officers can start creating their ribbon chart today. Templates and a user guide (titled Officer Development Ribbons - All AFSCs), explaining each section of the ribbon chart, are located on the Air Force Portal under AMC's main page, "Guidance and Directions", "Templates."

As the ribbon chart becomes more mainstream, it is important officers embrace it as a mighty mentorship tool. With increased understanding, the ribbon chart will help young officers proactively develop career goals and get feedback from supervisors and mentors to achieve those goals. So do not get left behind in this competitive Air Force, get mentored!

(Maj. Chris Stephens is a C-17 Globemaster III pilot currently in the Joint Mobility Fellow's Program, an in-residence Intermediate Developmental Education program at Scott AFB, Ill.)