CSO, CMSSF Mentor 200+ Cadets at Doolittle Leadership Center Workshop 

February 26, 2024   |   By Patrick Reardon

AFA’s Doolittle Leadership Center (DLC) organized and hosted a “Senior Mentorship for Junior Leaders” workshop featuring Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman and Chief Master Sergeant of the Space Force John Bentivegna on Feb. 13 during the 2024 AFA Warfare Symposium in Aurora, Colo. More than 200 cadets from two Air Force ROTC detachments and the U.S. Air Force Academy attended the event, taking advantage of a unique opportunity to engage directly with and receive candid leadership advice from a Service Chief and his Senior Enlisted Advisor. 

Saltzman, who was commissioned through Air Force ROTC at Boston University in 1991, opened the workshop by defining successful leaders as people who are “undeniably valuable to their organization.” He encouraged the cadets to prove their value “along the way” through their careers, acknowledging that becoming “undeniably valuable” can be difficult to achieve in the military with regular changes of duty stations. 

“There’s no secret path,” Saltzman said. “I often get asked by groups, ‘How do you manage a career? What is a career path? What does success look like as you chart your way through a path?’ I don’t like that. I think the path is really what you’ve worn behind you. And that’s really not as valuable because it’s the stuff you’ve already done. The path in front of you is still to be determined. For 29 years of my career, I was on a path—and then they stood a Space Force up … Don’t get locked in and think, ‘I have to do the things that keep me on a path.’ These are false choices.” 

Cadets lined up behind the microphone for over an hour, eager to ask advice from the Space Force leaders. Their questions ranged from implementing unpopular policy changes, to collaborating with noncommissioned officers and senior enlisted leaders as young officers, to the mindset needed to commission into the Department of the Air Force during its early phases of reoptimizing for great power competition.

“Have an approach where you’re humble,” Bentivegna said. “Don’t take yourself so seriously. Because as a leader, you have to be approachable. You have to be credible. You have to be humble to do that.” 

Some of the most valuable information Saltzman and Bentivegna offered followed that theme of “humility” as a core virtue in the constitution of a leader. And indeed, they humbly shared stories of their own past shortcomings as leaders—times they nearly buckled under anxiety or overlooked subordinates who needed their attention—and how they learned from those experiences and became all the better for it. 

“Leadership lessons sometimes are very hard,” Bentivegna said. “They can leave a mark on you, especially if it’s a failure of leadership. And I’ve had several of those throughout my career.” 

“Focus on the task at hand and what the people [who you’re supporting] are going to do. Because it’s not about you,” Saltzman said. 

The event was the second of the DLC’s “Senior Mentorship for Junior Leaders” workshops. The first was held at AFA’s 2023 Air, Space & Cyber Conference in September and featured then-Lt. Gen. James Slife, who is now the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force. The DLC will hold similar leadership workshops for cadets, Silver Wings, and Arnold Air Society members at every major AFA conference. 

“CSO and CMSSF brilliantly modeled aspects of Lead, Develop, and Care in their wisdom, availability and transparency. We’re very grateful for their participation. We should all be motivated by their example,” said Dr. Patrick Donley, Director of the DLC. “Leadership is a skill that must be taught, modeled, and coached. When we expect leaders of any rank to ‘figure it out,’ we’ve done them, their mission, and their subordinates a disservice. These mentorship sessions demonstrate how importantly senior leaders take intentional leader development—especially in light of great power competition. “ 

To learn more about the DLC’s approach to building better leaders or schedule a mentorship workshop, contact us at doolittleleadershipcenter@afa.org

About the Doolittle Leadership Center 

AFA’s Doolittle Leadership Center’s mission is “Building Better Leaders.” In the spirit of AFA’s founding President, Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, the DLC delivers leadership-training courses, workshops, and resources to Air Force, Space Force, and aerospace industry leaders around the world. Using a “Lead, Develop, Care” model, the DLC equips cadets, enlisted leaders, officers, and industry professionals with a leadership framework to improve organizational, operational, and individual success. The DLC also organizes the “Senior Mentorship for Junior Leaders” workshop series that connects senior military leaders to the next generation of leaders.