Wingmanship is most important in Air Force

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Woitalla
  • 403rd Wing cammand chief master sergeant
I recently came across a story and it caused me to pause and take account of what a wingman really is and why we promote wingmanship. The actions of four Airmen transformed them to wingmen in the truest sense of the word.

When one Airman was going through a very difficult time, his four wingmen planned a series of events designed to keep an eye on the physical and mental wellbeing of their classmate. When the weekend was nearly over, the Airmen all went their separate ways but later the four received a suicidal text message. They called emergency medical technicians and then went to the Airman's home. The door was locked and there were a number of barking dogs inside. So, his four wingmen kicked in the door, subdued the animals and located the suicidal Airman unconscious on the bathroom floor. After these actions, the EMTs entered the property and administered emergency first aid and transported the Airman to a local hospital where he was revived.

These bold actions saved the life of an Airman going through a difficult time, exemplify our Airmen's Creed and show why being a wingman is more important than leadership or being a warrior.

Yes, when I first heard this, my thoughts went to the Airman's Creed. We are Airmen, we are warriors, we fly, we fight and we win. But being a wingman is more important than that. Being a wingman is what allows us to fly, fight and win. Each of us, military, civilian or contractor has a vital role in our efforts across the globe as we work to sustain and employ our Air Force.

The creed continues discussing a proud heritage our tradition of honor and a legacy of valor. Assuredly, we have heritage, we have traditions and we have a legacy of valor. What is tradition? When I hear how changing the uniform breaks down Air Force traditions, I think people don't really get what traditions are. A tradition is a custom, ritual or belief. A tradition is not embodied in what we wear, but by what we believe and do. I believe we need to embrace our heritage and add to our traditions. We need a tradition of wingmen. Why? A wingman is the embodiment of valor. It takes a boldness, courage and fearlessness to be a wingman. It takes people willing to knock down doors to save a fellow Airman. I want to be a member of a service where this type of Airman is prevalent.

The creed then addresses how we are entrusted as a guardian of freedom and justice, how we are our nation's sword, shield and avenger. We are all patriotic, willing to do what most others in our nation will never do. However, patriotism is more than waving a flag or paying respect to it during our ceremonies. Our patriotism is far deeper because we act as an instrument of war, defending our homeland and culture with our lives. There is no greater sacrifice than to lay down a life for a complete stranger, but our beliefs and way of life are worth protecting. No matter how noble this is, it pales in comparison to being a wingman. Beyond all doubt, our senior leaders place more emphasis on being a wingman than leadership or being a warrior.

How do I make the leap in saying being a wingman is more important? The last stanza of our creed places the order as, "Wingman, leader, warrior." It goes on to say, "I will never leave an Airman behind, I will never falter, and I will not fail." Think about that; wingman, leader, warrior. I can guarantee that the order of those words was debated by the authors of our creed and they had to justify that precedence before the most senior leaders of our profession. I also know they got it right.

Wingman, leader, warrior ... I think everyone gets the role of a leader or a warrior. We have Airman Leadership School, multi-levels of NCO academies and professional development of our officer corps such as the Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, and Air War College. All of these great professional development courses deal in leadership, teamwork, and combat skills to conduct war on tactical, operational and strategic levels. Think about it though -- not a single course on how to be wingman.

Leadership was embodied in the wingmanship of those four Airmen. Decisive actions saved a life, not looking away or waiting for someone else to take the lead. The question for each of us is -- are we wingmen? Do we get it? Is it worth it? To answer that, ponder what a life is worth. The Airman these four wingmen saved is now highly productive and has rejoined the patriotic fight to preserve our country. When we all understand wingmanship the way these four individuals do, the Air Force will have a new and stronger tradition based on the courageous actions of nothing more than truly caring for and looking after one another.