According to Air Force Manual 36-2643, mentorship is “a relationship in which a person with greater experience and wisdom guides another person to develop both personally and professionally. This relationship will help achieve mission success and motivate Airmen to achieve their career objectives."
For Capt. Jeff Jordan, 321st Air Mobility Operations Squadron, his mentor did just that.
“My dreams were achieved because of Colonel Zippwald,” said Jordan. “I know I wouldn’t be where I am without him. I owe him everything.”
“Everything” for Jordan began in late 2006, when the former staff sergeant was stationed at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, as a command and control journeyman, and received orders to Travis Air Force Base, California.
His orders initially stated that he’d be a member of the 60th Air Mobility Wing, but shortly after, Jordan was given the opportunity to, instead, be a C2 specialist for the 571st Global Mobility Squadron, the predecessor of the 921st Contingency Response Squadron.
“I was excited for the opportunity, but I didn’t know what I was getting into,” said Jordan. “I loved the idea of having windows, and having the opportunity to work alongside other career fields.”
Upon arrival in 2007, he was pleasantly surprised about what he saw.
“The culture and the morale in the squadron was awesome,” said Jordan. “It was very family friendly and you could just tell that everyone genuinely cared.”
Shortly after he arrived at the squadron, the unit held a commander’s call and the commander talked about enlisted and officer progression, but ended the conversation by describing possible commissioning programs for enlisted Airmen.
Jordan wasted no time expressing his desires to become an officer.
“Immediately after that commander’s call, he came into my office and said ‘that’s exactly what I want to do,’” said retired Col. Scott Zippwald, who was a lieutenant colonel and the 571st GMS commander at that time. “He said ‘I want to be the first in my family to graduate from college.’”
To Jordan, this was more than just a “want.”
“It was my dream,” said Jordan. “And after that, I wanted to commission.”
Zippwald and Jordan met several times after that initial conversation to discuss how to make Jordan’s dreams come true.
“We considered a few different options, but ultimately, we decided that the SOAR (Scholarship for Outstanding Airman to ROTC) program was the best avenue to make it happen,” said Zippwald.
The SOAR scholarship required a minimum of 24 credit hours of college in order to apply.
“I had exactly 24 credit hours at that time,” said Jordan. “At that point, I knew it was still a long shot, but I was a little more hopeful.”
Zippwald and the rest of the squadron leadership worked to compile the package to submit Jordan for the scholarship.
In late 2008, Jordan departed a last-minute temporary duty assignment. While TDY, Jordan received a welcomed phone call.
“I remember the day like it was yesterday. It was December 23,” said Jordan. “Colonel Zippwald called me to tell me that I had received the scholarship. To this day, that is still one of the best phone calls I have ever received.”
After returning, Jordan began outprocessing to separate from active duty, all the while he began the process of joining the ROTC program at nearby California State University, Sacramento.
Jordan finished ROTC holding the position of cadet squadron commander and was named “top gun” at field training toward the end of ROTC.
In the Spring of 2012, Jordan continued making last-minute preparations for his graduation and commissioning.
“Several months prior, I asked Colonel Zippwald if he’d be willing to commission me at my graduation,” said Jordan.
Zippwald’s reply was simple.
“Baring anything catastrophic, I would be there,” Zippwald said, who at the time was assigned to Camp Smith, Hawaii.
“I know he thanks me for his successes, but the fact of the matter is, I simply shined a light on the path,” said Zippwald. “He’s the one who put in the work to walk down the path.”
After commissioning, Jordan attended pilot training at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, and in the end, he was assigned the aircraft that he was hoping for, the airframe that the Contingency Response Wing is intimately familiar with: the C-17 Globemaster III.
“I remember watching a C-17 perform a dirt landing during one of our CRW exercises,” said Jordan. “At the time, I looked over at Colonel Zippwald and said ‘that’s what I want to do.’ Honestly, before that I never even thought about it, but at that moment, it seemed like something cool and impactful.”
Jordan graduated from pilot training and in February 2015, he joined the 16th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina.
After a few years at JB Charleston, the Jordan family looked for their next adventure.
“At that time, my wife and I had four young kids, so we want a good place for all of us,” said Jordan.
Then the opportunity presented itself.
“I heard that there was a possibility that I could rejoin the CRW, and I jumped on it!” said Jordan.
Jordan and his family arrived back at Travis in September 2019, but this time as a member of the 321st AMOS, nicknamed the “Masterminds.”
“The previous squadron commander, (Lt. Col. John) Berger, and now (Lt. Col. Jesse) Miller do such a good job making sure we’re taken care of,” said Jordan. “Not just the Airmen, but also their families, and to me, that’s the difference. My motivation is my family, and being around people who really care matters to me.”
Since returning to the CRW, Jordan’s goals have evolved from personal and professional growth to helping others achieve theirs.
“My goal now is to mentor others the same way I was mentored,” said Jordan.
To date, he has assisted seven enlisted Airmen to reach their goals of commissioning, Jordan said.
“I just want to help Airmen see their bigger purpose and help them reach their max potential,” said Jordan.
Jordan has also offered and provided several financial competency classes to hundreds of members of Team Travis. He teams with his wife for marriage mentorship courses for young couples, and more recently has been actively involved in facilitating squadron-level conversations about race and the challenges of being a black man, not only in the military but in America.
“I’m so proud of our Air Force for having these discussions,” he said. “It’s so important to continue having these uncomfortable conversations so we can continue to grow and bridge the divides.”
Jordan currently has 16 years of service and intends to continue his new goal of helping Airmen until he reaches his retirement.
“The Air Force has plenty of areas where it can improve,” said Jordan. “But now, I want to make the Air Force an even better organization than it was when I joined.”