Wingman Concept

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Nathan Davis
  • 509th Maintenance Squadron first sergeant
I received a phone call very early one morning with a familiar voice on the other end of the line. Unfortunately, as many first sergeants will attest, it's rarely good news when you receive a call at 0330. This time was no exception. "Master Sgt. Davis, we need you to come down here" said the voice at the other end. "One of your Airmen was picked up for suspicion of DUI." I groaned inwardly as I got out of bed to get dressed and wondered how someone decided to put themselves behind the wheel of a car after drinking yet once again.

I arrived at the LE desk about a half hour later and was met by a few security forces Airmen who led me to where they were keeping my Airman. As they opened the door I was greeted by a rush of bourbon-enhanced air emanating from the room and one very sad looking Airman. The Airman in question looked up at me with bleary eyes and gradually rocked back and forth in his chair as he pondered his inevitable fate. After security forces finished collecting the evidence that would later be used in the Airman's Article 15 action, I asked him what happened. At first he said what they all say: "I don't know." When I pressed him for more details he simply stated: "My plan fell through."

Aha! There's the key right there. Another failed plan; if there ever was one in the first place. Prevention is imperative to many of the potential catastrophes in life. That's kind of the real issue, don't you think? In my line of work as a first sergeant, too often I find myself dealing with many issues from a reactionary position. In other words, I deal with the consequences of someone's lack of planning or implementation of their plan. So how should we combat poor planning in these scenarios like the one above? Ever heard of the wingman concept? What is a wingman? Is it someone who goes out drinking with us. Is it someone who watches out for us as we drink? Remember the Airman's creed? "... I am an American Airman: Wingman, leader, warrior. I will never leave an Airman behind, I will never falter, and I will not fail."

According to Wikipedia, "A wingman (or wingmate) is a pilot who supports another in a potentially dangerous flying environment." Hmmm, you may want to re-read that but remove the word flying; "a potentially dangerous environment." Most often in the Air Force, we brief the wingman concept as a "plan" to place someone in a caretaker position over us for those times when we may have trouble taking care of ourselves. Those times when we may have trouble taking care of ourselves range from scenarios like the one above where a group of Airmen decide to go out and party but also extend to other scenarios such as watching out for our friends and colleagues if they're feeling down and out (depressed). In the early 1990s a significant suicide awareness program was developed by the Air Force. Coupled with this program, the Air Force also initiated significant suicidal awareness training for all of us that implements the "Wingman" concept. Statistics indicate the suicide rate for Air Force personnel was cut in half over the following five years.

Of course, the wingman concept only works if the plan is implemented and we actually follow through with it. So what happened in the case of my Airman above? After all, we brief the evils of drinking and driving all the time at commander's calls and various other opportunities as we go about our daily business in the United States Air Force. He was made aware of the hazards and consequences of drinking and driving on a multitude of occasions. I spoke with my Airman days later after some of the dust settled.

As it turns out, my Airman was the designated driver. He was the plan. He was the safety net for his teammates. He was the wingman. He failed his team and he failed himself. The wingman concept works and works very well, but only if we all take it seriously and fully implement the concept. We must remember to use the wingman concept not only in scenarios such as going out "to party" but in every facet of our daily lives. If we fail to do so, we will fail ourselves and we will fail our team.