A Mentor's Influence
(February 10, 2010)
ANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (2/5/2010 - RAFNS) -- Mentors
touch our lives and help shape us into the people we are
today. We value mentorship in the Air Force and both develop
it in our subordinates while seeking it from our
I like to think that one cannot have enough mentors, nor can
one mentor enough. I've had many through the years, but one
sticks out above the rest. This particular mentor touched my
life in two important ways, separated by nearly 40 years.
While a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy, I struggled to
keep my grades up. I was on the dean's "other list" six of
eight semesters. Now, in the end, I managed to defeat my
academic demons and graduate with a commission in 1973, but
I certainly didn't do it alone. I owe my success in large
part to my academic adviser and mentor, Col. Joe Henjum.
Colonel Henjum wasn't what I expected when I met him for the
first time in 1971. To be honest, I don't think I knew what
to expect. He had been awarded the Silver Star for heroism
while flying helicopters in Vietnam. I quickly learned that
Colonel Henjum was the kind of person who was easy to look
up to and even easier to follow.
When he took me and my academic worries under his wing, I
was proud to be there. I knew that his guidance, combined
with persistence and determination on my part, would lead me
through the challenge. In the end, it most certainly did.
When I walked across the stage with the rest of the Class of
1973, I strode with the confidence that Colonel Henjum had
helped build within me. He had been a crucial part of my
Academy experience and, in many ways, part of who I am
today. I kept in touch with Colonel Henjum over the years,
often thanking him for making a difference in my life. I
never imagined that his influence would impact me all over
again, especially at this point in my career.
The second time Colonel Henjum touched my life began with
tragic news. On Jan. 1 of this year, Colonel Henjum passed
away after battling a long illness. His son, Mark, asked if
I would speak at his father's memorial service. I was
touched by his request and spent hours trying to find the
right words to convey how great a person had just left our
earth. I wanted to make sure everyone understood the lasting
difference he made in the lives of others.
When it was my turn to speak, it came from my heart. I told
the crowd about a man who dedicated his life to serving and
helping others. When I finished, his son rose to speak.
While listening to Mark's story, I found Colonel Henjum
leading me on another journey. I was touched and want to
share the story with you.
A few months ago, Mark accompanied his father to the
hospital and they both knew what was about to happen. The
doctor was going to tell Colonel Henjum that he only had
three months left to live. It was an appointment they were
both dreading. While riding up to the doctor's floor,
Colonel Henjum greeted the building janitor who shared the
elevator with them. He complimented the janitor for keeping
the building so clean. The janitor was shocked; no one had
ever thanked him before. Colonel Henjum noticed the building
and took the time to notice the janitor. His actions
resonated with me. That janitor would never forget Colonel
When getting off the elevator, Colonel Henjum introduced
Mark to the receptionist. He told Mark about the
receptionist's son who was a Marine and currently flying
combat missions in Afghanistan. He reassured the
receptionist that her son would come home safely; Marines
are excellent pilots. Not only had Colonel Henjum met and
talked with the receptionist before, but also he remembered
her and took precious time to introduce his son. He even
thought to reassure her fears with a son deployed to combat
Now, think about it. Colonel Henjum was riding the elevator
to find out he didn't have much time left. Instead of
lamenting his fate, he was concerned about others. That day,
he made a difference in their lives. Almost 37 years after
graduating from the Academy, Colonel Henjum was once again
making a difference in my life.
I always like to tell people that they should strive for two
things in life: make a difference in people's lives and
leave the campground better than you found it. Colonel
Henjum certainly did that throughout his 75 years. He
mentored me as a cadet at the Air Force Academy and once
again just this last month. I couldn't ask for a better
mentor and friend.
Go and thank those who have guided you through the years and
take time to make a difference in the lives of those you
mentor. Our Air Force is only as good as those of us who
serve. Let's all work hard to make each of us a little
better each and every day. Just as Colonel Henjum did for me
and many others.
USAF Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz|
Commander, Air Education and Training Command
Air Force News Service
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