Being a wingman

  • Published
  • By Col. Michael Shea
  • 49th Maintenance Group
Rudolph and Hermy, Buzz and Woody, Skipper and Gilligan, Maverick and Goose, Han Solo and Chewbacca, Batman and Robin. Most people recognize these pairs as famous duos. One is always the lead, and the other is the supporting cast. We would refer to that faithful sidekick in the Air Force as - the Wingman.

Wingmen are found in all walks of life. What exactly does it mean to be a Wingman? According to the Air Force, the traditional military definition of a wingman refers to the pattern in which fighter jets fly: a lead aircraft and another that 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." He or she adds an element of mutual support to aerial combat, increasing situational awareness and the chance for a successful engagement.

Socially, a wingman is a role that a person may take when a friend needs support with approaching potential partners. A wingman is someone who is on the "inside" and is used to help another with intimate relationships.

For most of us, in its simplest form, being a wingman is a (often unspoken) promise or a commitment between you and your friend(s), to look out for and take care of each other, regardless of the situation. In our daily lives, just as in an aircraft, this is not a mutually exclusive concept. The leader has to take responsibility for himself and his wingman, and simultaneously, the wingman should be there willing to provide mutual support and protection, while carrying the same expectation for his or her partner, regardless of the situation.

For every problem an individual can have, there is someone in our Air Force who comes to work every day with the resources to help them face that problem. The Air Force has a multitude of programs geared toward re-enforcing the wingman concept. Air Combat Command approaches it by using, among other tools, the Comprehensive Airman Fitness program. The goal is to build mental, social, physical and spiritual resiliency, to better take care of ourselves, as well as our fellow Airmen. The training and tools given to us as Airmen are not restrictive to the Air Force and its Airmen. If you learn what they are and how to properly use them, you can employ them with anyone in your life - children, parents, siblings, spouses or significant others. The bottom line is that we should always be looking out for the people in our lives and helping to protect them, sometimes from themselves, but also from "enemies" around them.

All Airmen are encouraged to lead by example - to be good wingmen, by taking care of themselves and those around them and taking action when signs of stress are observed. Supervisors are the first line of defense for the well-being of the people they supervise. Often they are in a position to spot the first signs of trouble and are in the best position to listen and engage. Commanders bear responsibility for the total welfare of their assigned personnel, including the physical, emotional, social and spiritual dimensions. They recognize when their people need help and know where to send them to get it.

Airmen at all levels have a role as wingmen. You do not have to be a pilot, aircrew member, chief or officer, and your wingman does not even have to be in the service. The most important thing is to be aware of yourself, your friends, and keep an eye out for opportunities to help each other daily.