Words to live by

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. John Vitacca
  • 393rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron commander
I can save my own life. For everyone stationed at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, these words are part of their daily lexicon. As for the 260 or so 509'ers who deployed here last October as part of Pacific Air Forces' Continuous Bomber Presence, we too have become very familiar with the concept and its precepts.

While all personnel in the Air Force should be familiar with the concept of being a good wingman, they should also consider embracing this new concept which is the cornerstone of life at Andersen. Closely related, the ideas of "I can save my own life" and "be a good wingman" are different in scope. While the wingman concept asks airmen to look after fellow airmen, the concept of "I can save my own life" goes a step further to focus on personal responsibility and accountability.

While each B-2 is worth an estimated $2.2 billion, they're not the Air Force's most valuable asset. In fact, the Air Force's most valuable asset is its Airmen. This holds especially true in today's Air Force with personnel reductions and the consolidation of many jobs and AFSCs. The bottom line is that regardless of how many F-22's are funded or how many B-2's are mission capable, the Air Force will be unable to meet its commitments to the Nation without the efforts and contributions made by all of its Airmen - without the efforts and contributions made by you.

In 2004, the Air Force adopted the wingman concept whereby Airmen were charged with looking out for each other. Whether on or off duty, the concept holds that we should all be diligent in looking for signs of trouble, always ready to step up and take the lead when necessary to help a fellow Airman. You get the picture. The wingman concept is 509'ers helping 509'ers, simple as that. At Whiteman, we have several programs which promote the wingman concept. One obvious example is Airman Against Drunk Driving. This program, managed and run by our own enlisted force, consists of nearly 90 volunteers who man shifts to drive Airmen home if they have had too much to drink. To date, this program has provided over 2,700 rides home, potentially saving as many lives.

Back in December, we all participated in Wingman Day. In fact, the entire Air Force devoted a full day to talk about safety and other topics related to taking care of our Airmen. While actual Wingman Day agendas varied from base to base or even squadron to squadron, the message was clear: every Airman is important and every Airman is critical to the mission. Just like at Whiteman, the deployers at Andersen AFB also observed Wingman Day. We sat through many of the same briefing topics and covered many of the same issues. However, I will venture to say there was one item that was different, and this was Andersen AFB's emphasis on the "I can save my own life" concept.

Emphasizing personal responsibility and accountability, this concept states, "I can save my own life. I am responsible for my own safety both on and off duty, on and off the base," and this is important "because I am important, my family and friends love me, my unit needs me and my nation is depending on me." This concept is so entrenched here, each person stationed at Andersen or who deploys here is required to carry a business card with them at all times that states the words above. So although the wingman concept is alive and well here in Guam, this additional and highly stressed emphasis on personal choices and responsibilities drives home the fact that you should not always count on someone else to bail you out of a bad situation. It emphasizes that the individual can prevent their own problems by planning for and making good choices from the start and thus save their own life, career, reputation, credibility, etc. It also emphasizes the fact that you are held accountable for the decisions you do make.

While at first it seems obvious and simple, this concept cuts to the core of being a responsible adult. Different from the wingman concept which asks your friends and co-workers to watch out for you; this concept reminds us all that we are responsible for our own choices. From alcohol and tobacco use, to safety, health, fitness, relationships, etc., each choice we make has ramifications, good and bad. So although at times we all stumble and can use the help of a wingman, we must use our wingman as a safety net and not count on them as our primary means to stay out of trouble. By making good choices from the start, you can save your own life.