Wingman: Leader, follower, friend

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kel Robinson
  • 552nd Operations Support Squadron Commander
Since 2004, the Air Force has encouraged Airmen to embrace the Wingman concept. However, some non-flyers have asked how this concept applies to them. Our heritage stems from Airmen taking care of each other in the air and on the ground. In practical terms any Airmen can relate to, being a "Wingman" in today's Air Force calls for you to be a leader, a follower and a friend.
   First, a Wingman is a leader. As such, we'd never lead our Airmen into a dangerous situation they can't handle. This seems obvious in combat, but also applies in garrison on and off duty. Our Airmen are our most precious resource. This is why unit leaders care so much about fitness, safety, seatbelts, responsible drinking, and the prevention of sexual and domestic abuse. From Commanders to front-line supervisors, we protect our Airmen by getting out from behind the desk and encouraging a culture of responsible decision making.
   By definition, a Wingman is also a follower. Just as a good Wingman protects their flight lead in the air, a good Airman has the courage to speak up when things don't look, sound, or feel right. A loyal follower focused on "doings things right" and "doing the right thing" can save lives and ensure mission success.
   Finally, a Wingman is a friend. This is where we're most effective in caring for each other. While supervisors may notice a drop in performance, our peers are often the first to detect subtle or unusual changes in behavior. Some distress signs only a friend may notice include irritability, depression, isolation, relationship problems, or drug and alcohol misuse. No Airman is immune to distress and sometimes we all need a friend brave enough to actually help.
   Luckily, we are not an Air Force of One. True to our heritage, we can always count on our Wingmen. Wingman Day is a great opportunity to re-dedicate ourselves to taking care of each other as Airmen. However, the Wingman concept is bigger than any one-day event; it is a culture of Airmen taking care of Airmen 24/7, 365 days a year.