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Taking care of your wingman is everyone's responsibility

by Col. David W. Norsworthy
6th Maintenance Group commander

The 6th Air Mobility Wing stood down for an entire day May 25. The timing of this event, just days before the Memorial Day holiday weekend, was important.

Every year the Air Force experiences an increase in safety incidents and accidents during the summer months between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the "101 Critical Days of Summer." So we used the down day to emphasize safety and the typical summer hazards.

But there was a second, even more important reason the wing stood down last month…to foster the culture of the Wingman into MacDill Airmen. Worrying about safety only during the summer is not enough. We need to make sure we're taking care of each other every day, that we embrace this "Wingman" culture now.

So, what is a wingman and who is your wingman? I'm not a historian, but I do enjoy studying about our air and space heritage. I remember as a kid reading about World War II bomber tactics from books like Jablonski's "Flying Fortress."

I still enjoy watching the History Channel, and seeing wartime film of the defining campaigns and events in our Air Force history. It fascinates me to see images of massive bomber formations flying over Europe, protected by their "little friends," the fighter squadrons who escorted them into Nazi airspace.

But the wingman concept goes back even further, to the WWI era. The early aviators flying their biplanes in pursuit squadrons used the wingman concept to make sure the enemy wasn't sneaking up from behind them, or coming in from their "blind side." Wingmen would "check 6" for each other to keep from being attacked.

During WWII, B-17s, B-24s and B-29s flew in large formations, ensuring they had overlapping fields of fire from their machine guns and cannons. The reasoning was simple; there is strength in numbers. Tragically, when a bomber was separated from the pack, it became a vulnerable target, and the enemy often singled out these lone aircraft for destruction. It's heart-breaking to see pictures of a crippled bomber in a dive, parachutes billowing out from every hatch and hole, knowing some crew members did not survive the crash.

We serve in a dangerous profession, after all. During the Korean and Vietnam wars, if a fighter, bomber or reconnaissance jet crashed, the wingman would loiter on scene, call for a rescue mission, and render whatever aid they could until low fuel forced them to return to base. During Desert Storm and Operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM, the wingman concept endured, a testimony to Airmen taking care of Airmen, no matter the circumstances. This is a proud heritage and a worthy principle.

"But I'm not an aviator," you say. "How does this apply to me? I work in an office all day." Well, these Airmen principles do apply to you, no matter what your AFSC.

Here's how I see the wingman concept applying to each of us, in any career field.

First, we are not in this fight alone. We have coworkers and squadron mates who share our load, and help to bear our troubles. There is strength in numbers. We should watch for blind spots and help our fellow Airmen avoid the threats that they may not see coming up from behind. For instance, you may be the only person who can stop a fellow Airman from drinking and driving. Certainly, a drunken airman has poor judgment, so you--the good wingman--can help your buddy from becoming a casualty by driving them home, taking away their keys or calling a taxi for them. This is good wingman behavior.

It's also good wingman behavior to encourage your buddy to seek help if he or she is regularly binge drinking, or overindulging in alcohol to a dangerous degree. Being a good wingman is being a friend.

Not only is there strength in numbers, but there is power in overlapping fields of fire. If you are part of a work team, then you are each responsible to the others. If one of your buddies is not wearing protective equipment, or is failing to use proper technical data to accomplish the job, then you-the good wingman-are responsible for correcting this on the spot. Don't allow this Airman to become isolated from the team or to suffer the consequences of poor discipline or procedure. Stay together, and watch out for each other.

Just as wingmen did in Korea and Vietnam, if a buddy does take a fall, stay on the scene, and then call in the rescue. Don't abandon your fellow Airmen. That’s what being a wingman is all about.

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