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I will never leave an Airman behind

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Antonio Hickey
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
One of the things I love most about the Air Force, and the military for that matter, is that we have a sense of community that is unmatched in any other profession. We view our profession as a way of life and our sense of community extends far beyond our working relationships and into our personal lives. I'm proud to say that we take care of our Airmen and their families like no other organization in the world.

Some of this is the result of many years of close living quarters which necessitated the need to get along well with each other and understand each other's strengths and limitations. That requirement diminished somewhat throughout the years as our living environment changed, but the need for a strong sense of community is still critical to the military even today.

One of the ways we build and demonstrate this sense of community is through the wingman concept.

The term wingman comes from the pattern in which combat aircraft fly in two-ship formations. The lead aircraft prosecutes the attack while the second aircraft flies off the right wing and slightly behind lead. This trailing aircraft is referred to as the "wingman" and his primary role is to protect the lead's back and provide mutual support. The end result with this type of formation is increased firepower, improved situational awareness, and the ability to employ more dynamic combat tactics.

The late Col. Francis "Gabby" Gabreski (credited with 34 kills in WWII and Korea) said this: "The wingman is absolutely indispensable. I look after the wingman. The wingman looks after me." He went on to say, "Wars are not won by individuals. They're won by teams." This is the heart of the wingman concept and it is as true in our everyday lives as it is in air warfare.

With today's operations tempo and challenging social environment, the need for us to take care of each other has probably never been greater. As leaders, we must always be engaged with our fellow Airmen and extend the tried-and-true combat principles of the wingman concept into our personal lives.
Don't get me wrong, the best wingmen are not our Airmen's supervisors or leaders ... although all supervisors and leaders are wingmen by definition. Our best wingmen are our Airmen's peers and close friends. These individuals work and often live side-by-side, placing them in the best position to offer timely and effective backup.

We've seen some recent demonstrations of outstanding applications of the wingman concept. Take a look at this recent article: Now, I don't know Senior Airman Jordan Gunterman, but his actions demonstrate the heart and soul of the wingman concept. His story is just one of many great examples of how to apply the concept appropriately.

So, take some time and make sure all of your Airmen (including yourself) have a wingman and that they understand the concept fully. If you do, I'm sure you'll find an improved sense of community, better mission accomplishment and an organization that truly Leaves No Airmen Behind.