What does it take to be a Wingman?

  • Published
  • By Tom Taylor
  • 82nd Communications Squadron
Are you a Wingman? Yes you answer!

Are you sure about that? What is all this Wingman stuff?

As a retired chief master sergeant, I first thought it was just a catchy word, a soft way of telling Airmen, NCOs and officers that with their enlistment or commissioning comes a responsibility to enforce rules and orders. But after seeing the number of deaths, injuries and DUIs over the past year, I realized that if each and every one of us was a good Wingman, if we made sure our buddy, subordinate or boss did not drink and drive, we could save lives, save the extra workload and embarrassment that comes with a DUI.

Listening to all the holiday briefings on drinking and driving (along with analyzing my personal experiences), I came to realize that one drink does affect your judgment and coordination.

I go to the fitness center regularly and exit out the door next to the racquet ball courts. Having played for many years, occasionally I stop and watch people play this great game. One of the things I noticed was that too many people ignored the big sign on the court door that quoted the AFI that requires players to wear eye protection.

Racquet ball is a fast game; the ball moves between 50 and 100 mph and there are typically two to four players on the court with racquets flailing about. The staff does a good job ensuring that players wear eye protection, but they can't be everywhere.

I make a point to either remind the players or tell the staff, usually two or three times a week. One day, with some aggravation in my voice, I reminded the players wearing eye protection that they had a Wingman responsibility to make sure their fellow Airmen also wear eye protection.

As result, I have done a lot of thinking about the Wingman concept.

One night as I left Fitness Center recently, the same scenario - three Airmen playing racquet ball - I envied their agility and the fun they were having. Oops, one of them pushed his eye protection up on his forehead and they continued to play. The best player of the three proudly wore his Air Force Academy T-shirt.

Three young, vibrant Air Force human assets and one of them was risking his eyesight! I reacted and told him of the requirement to wear eye protection. He complied immediately. I was relieved; I did not want a confrontation.

I stayed and watched them play and mentally coached them. When they came off the court, I talked to them briefly then asked the one in the Academy T-shirt if he was a student pilot, to which he said he was. He was very polite and professional and agreed that he would not want to explain to his commander why he had failed as a Wingman if the other player was injured or lost an eye.

This brings us back to my earlier question. What does it take to be a Wingman? First and foremost, especially for a young person, to be a Wingman takes courage. It takes courage to tell a friend, fellow Airman or someone senior to you that they are doing something wrong, something unsafe, or something stupid.

To be a Wingman, you must accept the responsibility vested in you. Yes, you are required and expected to look out for other Airmen. You are expected to protect Air Force resources - especially the human resources.

It takes integrity to be a Wingman; it's a 24/7 responsibility on and off duty, on and off base, at work and at play.

A Wingman wants to be a leader. A leader accepts responsibility; a leader has the courage to do the unpopular thing such as tell a fellow Airman not to drink and drive or to even put on their eye protection.

A Wingman wants to be a leader. A Wingman has courage. A Wingman has integrity. A Wingman accepts responsibility.

Wingmen make the AF stronger and safer. Are you a Wingman?