Are you being a good wingman?

  • Published
  • By Col. Ron Buckley
  • 366th Fighter Wing commander
Picture this...a cold winter morning and a crew chief positioning a heater hose at just the right angle to warm his hands while performing one last check of his toolbox. A minute later, a pilot walks up and receives a snappy salute and a "good morning sir!" from the crew chief before reviewing the aircraft forms prior to takeoff.

The pilot just came from the pre-flight briefing where among other things, he coordinated every aspect of the upcoming sortie with his wingman. Now, do you think that pilot believes his wingman is the only person he will be looking out for and who will be looking out for him during the flight? Certainly not.

In the case of this flight lead, there are many Airmen who will act as his wingmen before, during and after a flight. That crew chief who double checked his toolbox to ensure all his tools were accounted for is his wingman. The aircrew flight equipment personnel who packed his parachute and the noncommissioned officer who signed off the last inspection on the ejection seat are his wingmen.

It's no different for all of us, no matter where we work or if we are on or off duty. If we look beyond our immediate company and realize we are surrounded by wingmen, we will see wingmen everywhere. We need to be looking out for each other.

Some Airmen limit "the wingman concept" to only those friends and co-workers they are actively involved with at any given time.

An Airman at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, prevented a friend from tech school, who was stationed at another base, from killing herself by talking to her over the phone and contacting security forces at her base. We need to be vigilant and leverage our resources such as cell phones, blogs, and social media as we take care of those around us...our wingmen.

Being a wingman can take on many forms, such as mowing the lawn for a deployed Airman so his wife does not have to, or befriending that quiet Airman who often hangs out alone in the day room. It's driving 15 mph in housing areas in order to protect the kids who are out playing. It's taking care of yourself so your coworkers don't have to pick up your slack at work or even deploy in your stead if you're sick or injured.

There seems to be another misconception that the wingman concept applies to very specific and unique situations. Webster defines a wingman as "a pilot who flies behind and outside the leader of a flying formation," but being a wingman has come to mean much more than that.

It's not difficult to see how a lot of us automatically associate the term "wingman" with suicide prevention, sexual assault, or drinking and driving. The Air Force has pushed the wingman concept for years now as a way to reduce those kinds of negative trends and rightfully so. However, don't think for a moment that being a good wingman does not apply to all aspects of our daily lives.

Thinking back to the pilot in the beginning, do you think he assumes his only job as a wingman is to watch his partner's six? There are so many other things a good wingman watches out for as they rip through the sky at hundreds of miles per hour. "Being a wingman is more about building a relationship. It's about trust," said Capt. Ray Gunter, a flight lead for the 391st Fighter Squadron. "When we fly, I am responsible for bringing that wingman home."

Don't just keep your wingman from drinking and driving. Don't just try to prevent sexual assault. Don't just stop someone from hurting more. Actively look for other, more routine and creative ways to engage in the daily lives of your fellow Airmen.

"It's a much bigger deal than making sure your buddy does not get a DUI," Captain Gunter said. "It's a deeper level of commitment and friendship."

We need to view good wingmanship as more than just stopping someone from doing something foolish. It's about being willing to give of yourself and invest time in the lives of other people, especially those you lead. It's about creating a culture of selflessness and developing a sense of personal responsibility in our lives and the lives of others.
I will be the first to admit that we have used the term "wingman" a lot lately, but I do not agree that it's overused. The fact there are still incidents involving drinking and driving, sexual assault and suicidal ideations proves to me that we need to continually be reminded to take care of one another.

Call it "looking out for each other" or "being a good friend" if you wish. Whatever you call it, the concept remains -- look out for the well being of others just as you hope they would do for you. Don't become jaded to the wingman concept because you've heard it a hundred times before. It's a mindset that applies to more than just drinking and driving. It's a concept that we need to apply to all aspects of our lives and a mentality we need to foster in all our Airmen.

So, are you being a good wingman and encouraging others to do the same?