Life Lessons in Mentoring from a Military Leader

Admiral Gay swearing someone into office
Katherine Parker

Admiral Earl Gay knows a lot about inspiring others from 33 years of Navy service

January is National Mentoring Month and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) is supporting our friends at MENTOR by sharing some advice from a man who, among his many achievements, has made mentoring his mission: retired Navy Admiral Earl Gay.

Admiral Gay (pictured above, right) is the Senior Advisor for Wounded Warrior and Veterans and Military Families Initiatives at CNCS and says a lot of what he does is rooted in establishing trust, building relationships, and leading change, all of which fall under his concept of mentorship.

These traits come naturally to the Admiral as a leader of men and women in the armed forces. He willingly shares his life story, using wall-mounted photos of family and friends to illustrate his points, “I like people to have the whole story; it extends an arm of trust.”

Admiral Gay grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and is the youngest of three siblings who inspired him to strive for greatness. After high school he applied to the U.S. Naval Academy, which he turned into 33 years of military service, flying as a Navy pilot, commanding an amphibious aircraft carrier, earning two master’s degrees, and enjoying countless opportunities to mentor. He says it was an honor to serve in uniform and now in national service and credits his service to the idea that mentoring is a mutual investment.

“It is almost familial; it’s a responsibility to the next generation, to colleagues, to neighbors,” he said. “I feel blessed to have had so many learning opportunities and that this country invested so much in me; I feel it is my duty to share my knowledge and skills with others.

“I see it as everyone’s responsibility to continue learning and continue sharing so that we all become better,” said Admiral Gay. “Teach the fisher to fish so there are more fish to eat.”

Always returning back to the Naval Academy, Admiral Gay has mentored members of the Navy football team and incoming midshipmen, and he continues this role in both structured mentorship programs and as an informal advisor to people adjusting to new environments.

“We’ve all been there, in an unfamiliar situation, we have to look out for each other and share our knowledge to reach the next goal,” said Admiral Gay, noting that mentoring is an educational experience for the mentee and the mentor. “No one is ever too young to be a mentor or too wise to be a mentee.”

This idea resonates with the spirit of service and volunteering; as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.” CNCS urges Americans to take up this spirit of service by becoming a mentor or joining another volunteer effort in their community. Visit our website to learn more about mentoring and to search volunteer opportunities.

With a cheerful expression on his face Admiral Gay drives home his belief that trust, compassion, service, and mentorship are synonymous. His military leadership and mentor expertise are clear as he closes with “If you ever wonder what I am all about, just check my email signature; it says ‘One Team, One Fight.’ That message has transcended my career.”

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