What is a Wingman?
By Col. Steve Tanous, 30th Space Wing Commander
/ Published January 23, 2008
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- I've designated 24 Jan as a Wingman Day, which drives the question, "What is a wingman?" A wingman is someone who looks out for their fellow Airmen. This Wingman Day recognizes that we just surpassed 100 days with no DUIs in the wing. I believe this is evidence that the "wingman culture" has truly taken take root in the 30th Space Wing.
The cornerstone of the wingman philosophy is Airmen helping Airmen. From the first day a new Airman - enlisted, officer, or civilian - joins the Air Force, there is a comprehensive effort to educate and inculcate the "wingman culture" - to make it as central to our thinking as the concept of being a capital "A" Airman. Establishing the wingman culture requires commitment from each of us - in order for it to work, it's a culture that must permeate everything we do and be apparent everywhere we go, day in and day out, on and off-base, both on and off-duty.
Being a Wingman calls for a certain set of skills or characteristics. One is building relationships, caring about our fellow airmen and knowing them well enough to recognize when they need our help and support, or in some cases, intervention. These relationships are required in order to identify when your fellow airman may need a wingman - having the situational awareness to know when to step up, and step in, as a wingman. You may ask why this is important; it's because each of us is important to the mission and we all need to understand that the impact of what we do extends beyond what we might typically consider our sphere of influence - we need to be "strategic airmen" at a personal level. Being a wingman isn't just taking a call from a fellow airman and picking them up at zero-dark-thirty because their plan fell through; it's having that airman know you well enough that they're comfortable calling at that time of day to ask for a ride. Wingmen develop personal relationships with fellow Airmen, and become part of their family. The Air Force family is one of our strengths as a military organization.
We also need to have a strong moral compass that helps us spot ethical "yellow lights" and make responsible choices, so when we see our wingmen struggling in those situations, we can provide the mutual support to get through those challenges. We always need to do the right thing - and yes, that's a direct tie back to our core values.
Another essential skill is teamwork. Wingmen never work alone. Deployments, moves, new jobs, new homes, time pressures, work and family expectations, force shaping, and financial concerns are all stressors. We are all in this together, and as you may have heard some say it, this is "one team, one fight." Nobody else does what you do as members of Team V, and no one can do it better. Whether you're in a convoy in Iraq, repairing a downed electrical line, or processing a booster for launch - operating as a team is how we make it happen.
This week we reflect on the fact that we've just gone over 100 DUI-free days as a wing. Take advantage of this Wingman Day by engaging in the activities your units have set up to further your relationships with fellow Airmen. Spend the time to get to know each other, to build your team, enhance the skills that will ensure you have the strength to do the right thing (even when no one is looking), and provide the mutual support that ensures we can get the mission done and take care of each other, regardless of the challenge, whether personal or professional. Thank you for everything you do as our Nation's finest Airmen, developing and advancing space power for America - and enjoy your Wingman Day!