DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --
What does it mean to be a great wingman? Does it mean you say hello to everyone you come in contact with regularly? Does it mean you make yourself available to everyone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? If you answered yes to all, then you are on the right track.
In 1993, I was a sheltered and introverted teenager who didn't believe in partying or hanging out with other teens. I was comfortable being home with my family. I quickly learned that this lifestyle was detrimental to my enlistment in the military.
I deployed within six months of arriving at my first duty station, the 82d Security Forces Squadron at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. I deployed to Cuba with a squad of Airmen whom I didn't know personally or care to know. I was not too fond of a few of my teammates because of their personalities and sadly didn't care to know the others. I was pretty sure the feeling was mutual since we were strangers before the deployment. Once we arrived at our destination, we built our tent and received our work schedule. After a few weeks of working inside a barbed wire fence full of tents, we quickly realized the importance of bonding as a team and building camaraderie. After all, we had to be ready in the event we encountered hostile forces or had to deal with a crisis.
Our path to becoming great wingmen was expedited when a typhoon hit us. Our camp was destroyed, tents shattered, and we were soaking wet for over 24 hours trying to recover from the devastation. The storm managed to destroy everything in its path. I vividly recall crossing what I thought was a shallow creek and nearly drowned, but luckily I was saved by one of the Airman whom I ironically didn't like or care to know.
Reflecting on this deployment, I don't recall the term wingman, but we demonstrated it with one another. As a sheltered individual, my coping skills were limited. I was away from home for the first time and now lived with nine strangers in a medium tent. Even though I survived a typhoon and could work long shifts, I struggled with living conditions and being away from my family for the first time. It took the strength of my fellow wingmen to help me survive the ordeal, overcome homesickness, and keep me performing at my full potential.
I am a true believer in being a great wingman! My definition of a great wingman is to treat others like family or, as we call it, extended family. I've always viewed those whom I'm stationed with as extended brothers and sisters. My wingmen from the past and present do not always know or understand how much they have impacted my life and career. A few of them might have even saved my life. Having a wingman is a necessity to maintaining a long and healthy career in the military.
Lastly and most importantly, being a great wingman is more than just saying hello regularly or making yourself available 24 hours, 7 days a week. Being a great wingman means connecting with other people on a deeper level; it's making connections that build trust, camaraderie and an extended family. Everyone should be excited about growing and nurturing their extended family. Each member's goal should include having numerous wingman from different assignments within their career. Having the ability to build a network of relationships and connect with many Airmen across the globe could potentially decrease suicide and increase resilience in the military community.