Being a wingman

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Casey Tidgewell
  • 49th Operations Support Squadron commander

We consistently hear the message from Air Force senior leadership down through front-line supervisors that we all need to be a Wingman for our fellow Airmen. As the premier fighting force that flies, fights and wins in air, space and cyberspace, this is a catchy concept. But when you peel it back, what does it actually mean to be a Wingman? In aviation, the Wingman is often thought to be the number 2, who is the silent shadow that follows Lead's every move, and only speaks when spoken to. While this may make for a good Wingman in some circumstances, I argue that this isn't enough. The goal is to be a great Wingman. And to be a great Wingman takes much, much more.


As a young pilot, I was a good Wingman if I could keep visual, responded promptly with number "2" when required, and was ready to let Lead know he was on fire - literally. As I progressed as a pilot, I found that I became a much better Wingman once I became a Flight Lead. When flying as a Wingman, I now knew what Lead needed and, while still adhering to the plan, could anticipate what Lead would ask next and be ready to execute when tasked. I also could take Lead's intent and turn that into action to accomplish the mission. With some leadership training, I was on my way to being a great Wingman.


Outside of aviation, the concept of being a great Wingman is the same.  While not every Airman supervises and leads someone else, the military does a solid job ensuring even the youngest Airman is equipped with basic leadership skills that can be used to become a great Wingman by anticipating what needs to be done, having the initiative to act, and not limiting his or her actions to only that which is asked.  When you agree to be the voice of reason or the designated driver at Thirsty Thursdays, which is now happening at Oasis Pizza in the newly renovated Community Center, you're agreeing to be a good Wingman. However, when you take that to the next step and then intervene with someone who's had enough to drink or step in to defuse a heated argument before it evolves into something else, you're being a great Wingman.  When you agree to help a committee for a base function, you're being a good Wingman. When you see something unsafe while working the event and then take charge to get help and remedy the situation, you're being a great Wingman. When you help out your fellow Airmen in your work section, you're being a good Wingman. When you see a process that doesn't make sense and then offer a solution to supervision to improve the work environment for you and your fellow Airmen, you're being a great Wingman. 


It is important to remember that you don't have to be a Wingman to only your best friends. We are all most comfortable with those we know best. However, in our chosen Air Force career, we all are working toward a common goal and need to be ready to act as a great Wingman for any of our comrades in arms, whether they're an officer, enlisted, civilian, contractor or family member. Remember, you can be a great Wingman on a personal, professional or organizational level. Even if your squadron has several distinct flights, you can be the great Wingman that sees something in another section and then says something to make a difference in someone's life or how they accomplish the mission. 


My ideal Wingman is proactive and motivated, has the ability to think through problems and offer potential solutions, and possesses the initiative to take action. It takes time and experience to learn some of these skills, but with time and effort, it's possible. Challenge yourself to not be just a good Wingman - be a great Wingman!