What Makes a Good Wingman?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Beverly Everly
  • 423rd Medical Squadron
In my office, in a tattered picture frame, I keep a small black and white copy of an old photograph. To many people entering my office the photo of six young men standing locked arm-in-arm would seem unremarkable. However, the photograph means so much more to me.  The picture was actually captured right before my uncle and his fellow Marine’s departed for the battle of Iowa Jima. The six very young men smile broadly as they peer into the camera. Each man looks confident, almost cocky as they lean on one another. They look like they should be dressed for a high school football team, not standing in Marine uniforms preparing to go to war.  Of the six Marines in the photograph, four would die in battle and two would leave the island wounded. Seventy-five years after fighting in Iowa Jima, it is not medals, honors or even the battle my uncle chooses to reflect on. Instead, it is telling colorful stories about the courageous men he served with that brings a smile to his weathered face. Today, my uncle stores the original photo in his well-loved Bible. 

I keep a copy of my uncle’s photo in my office for several reasons. First, looking at it never fails to remind me that many young men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. When I have difficult days, I look at the faces of those six young men and realize, many have seen far worse days. Secondly, the photo serves as a daily presence to remind me that we all need each other no one succeeds alone. Everyone needs a Wingman!

Being a good Wingman is a responsibility and a privilege. However, being an effective Wingman takes effort and commitment. It is also about being aware of the people you work with, for and around you. Being a Wingman also, takes a willingness to step-in and offer help when you see an Airman in need. A Wingman must be a leader, a follower and a student all wrapped into one. General David Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, has commented that, “People are the foundation of our Air Force. Our mutual support for each other is based on dignity, respect and trust…a Wingman culture. As Wingmen we must continuously demonstrate courage and strength of character to do and say the right things, at the right times, to protect each other…there is no other acceptable option.” Being a good Wingman means being supportive, reliable, accountable and courageous. 

Like my uncle and his buddies, who proudly lean on each other in their photo, I have Airmen that lean on me and I lean on them. I encourage all Airmen to lead by example and to be a good Wingman. Take care of yourself and take care of your buddy. Most importantly, take action when you see an Airmen in need. Our Air Force is built on a foundation of people held strong by the mortar of the relationships we build.