Over the years, the term “Wingman” has evolved in the Air Force.
The traditional military definition of a Wingman refers to the pattern in which fighter jets fly. There is always a lead aircraft and another which flies off the right wing of and behind the lead. This second pilot is called the Wingman because he or she primarily protects the lead by “watching his back.”
In today’s Air Force, leaders have adapted the Wingman concept not only among pilots but for every Airman.
“It is important for us to be Wingmen because on an enterprise level it makes us a more effective fighting force,” said Chief Master Sgt. Kelly Downey, 355th Maintenance Group superintendent. “On a personal level it prevents unneeded pain, anguish, hardship, guilt and, in extreme cases, can prevent death.”
Now more than ever being a good Wingman is vital to continuing the Air Force mission. Airmen are forced to make serious life choices based on the ever-changing Air Force.
“With the force management going on right now, there has been a slight rise in domestic abuse and alcohol related incidents,” said Tech. Sgt. Travis Hennis, a 355th Security Force Squadron Operations Support non-commissioned officer. “The Air Force has a lot of programs that can help with the changes but when you’re telling someone that they may no longer have a job, it’s hard to stop them from reacting however they are going to react.
As with suicides, it can be very hard to tell who’s thinking about it, unless they come right out and say it. Often times people step in when someone is already in trouble.
“The best time to get involved is the day you receive notice of an inbound, or when you first meet a fellow Airman, whether you are the new person or they are,” Downey said. “It’s not when someone is already in trouble or has come seeking help. Though it’s never too late, it just isn’t as effective.”
When someone is distracted by life changes or work complications, it can begin a downward spiral, not only for them, but their co-workers as well.
“The investment in time dealing with negative issues grows exponentially. It’s not just the Airman involved, it’s the leadership. Team dynamics can be greatly affected losing efficiency, maybe even a loss of trust in one another or in supervision and possibly a breakdown in communication,” Downey said.
Downey explains when someone is in need of assistance at the last minute, it can be a force divider. The affects can ripple for a long time and take just as much time for the unit to recover.
“There is no joy to be found in any of your team members suffering through issues. On the other hand there is absolutely no better joy than to be ahead of the game helping folk’s clear hurdles, and then watching their careers and lives blossom into something great,” Downey said.
For some Airmen the hard part about being a good Wingman is getting over the feeling that they are prying.
“Embrace your fellow Airman and embrace the fact that you are a part of something big. Just like any family, you have your part to do even if that means extending the first hand or even hanging out with that “Uncle Fester” type character of the family. Usually he or she ends up being the most fun to hang with anyway,” Downey said.
Downey also expressed that being a Wingman is not just about watching out for your teammates, but it’s also about personal responsibility and keeping yourself straight too.
“You are not a very good wingman if you make conscious decisions you know to be wrong than can, and will, negatively impact the team,” Downey said. “No matter what troubles you, solicit help; don’t hide, it’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of intelligence seeking out the wisdom of others even if all you learn is what not to do.”