We're all Airmen, Wingmen

  • Published
  • By Col. Pete Castor
  • 28th Bomb Wing vice commander
We hear a lot of buzz words these days. Sometimes, one might think higher headquarters has a think tank whose sole job is to come up with the latest catch phrase. As I reflect on my past 24 years in the Air Force, I recall various buzz words that have floated around our Service. Can anyone remember when the term "force multiplier" was the latest popular catch phrase? What about "Aim High?" Then there's everyone's old favorite - "Quality Air Force." The "in vogue" term that is bandied about quite a bit these days is, of course, "wingman." But, I like to believe wingman is not a catch phrase, buzz word, or colloquialism. 

Wingman is actually a time-honored and historical term unique to Airmen. The term "wingman" actually came about when man first employed flying machines as weapons platform. It didn't take long for the earliest aviators to figure out the best way to survive aerial combat was to have a buddy flying next to you "checking your six." From the official Air Force definition, "There is always a lead aircraft and another which flies off the right wing of and behind the lead. This second pilot is called the "wingman" because he or she primarily protects lead by "watching his/her back." The highest scoring ace in fighter pilot history was a German named Erich Hartmann, who scored 352 air-to-air victories. 

Even more impressive, historians tell us Hartmann never lost a wingman in more than 1,000 combat sorties. That is the example we all need to follow. In our Air Force, a wingman is an all-encompassing term regardless of rank or position much like "Airman." The word wingman applies to all of us. Aviators may have conceived the term, but, it's part of our heritage as Airmen. 

I encourage each of you to look out for our families, friends and squadron mates. It's critical we "check six" on and off duty so the "enemy" doesn't catch us off guard. What "enemy" am I talking about? Things like DUIs, alcohol-related incidents, unsafe practices in the workplace, stress, depression--these are but a few of the "enemies" that can catch Airmen off guard. 

As a vice commander, I have the extreme good fortune of being surrounded by wingmen. It's the crew chief who thoroughly inspects the jet, the pilots and WSO when I fly a sortie, and equally the NCOs on my staff who offer technical expertise on how we should proceed on an issue; they're all my wingmen. When our command chief provides me advice on issues he's learned to handle based on years of hard-won experience, he's my wingman. When I am given the privilege to lead our Airmen toward accomplishing our wing's objectives, I am automatically their wingman and vice-versa. Wingmen are everywhere and key to mission success. 

The "wingman philosophy" is a culture the Air Force has wisely adopted. Be the best wingman you can and know that you rely on your wingmen every day. The cornerstone of continuing to be the greatest Air Force in the world starts with taking care of each other. People First...Mission Always.