Being a good wingman….What does it really mean?

  • Published
  • By Maj. Kady Griffin, 436th Force Support Squadron commander

In the Air Force, we talk a lot about being a wingman, but what does that really mean? I'm sure if you polled your fellow Airmen, those answers would vary significantly. The wingman concept is probably most notably known for its use in the fighter community. By positioning their aircraft just behind and outside the lead in a formation, the wingman provides a safer and more capable flight by increasing situational awareness, firepower and more dynamic tactics.  So how does that translate into the everyday life of being an Airman? 

More often than not, being a good wingman means doing things that are really hard and sometimes unpopular. Most of us have heard the story of the “Emperor's New Clothes”. The fable tells the story of a young emperor who was so fond of new clothes that he spent large sums of money to ensure he was the best dressed in all the empire. He hired two weavers to make the most magnificent fabric imaginable with an extraordinary power that only those who were worthy could see it. The Emperor sent his most trustworthy confidants to check on the fabric's status; each one came back boasting of the fabric’s beauty and enchantment.

When the fabric was complete, the Emperor himself could not see the fabric and wondered if he was unworthy to hold his position. Rather than acknowledging he could not see it, he dressed himself in the enchanted fabric and continued out into the community. All the people of the empire commented on the perfection of his new clothes until a small child said, "He hasn't got anything on."

Why did the Emperor's wingman and trusted agent fail to tell him that he wasn't wearing any clothes? Was it because they worried he would deem them unworthy or were they afraid he would exile them from the empire if they gave him the information he did not like? 

Being a wingman is most difficult when we are faced with a decision that requires us to have an uncomfortable conversation with someone we respect or care about. Being a good wingman means having the situational awareness to know when something is wrong and having the courage to start the conversation. Being a good wingman means telling your friends and co-workers when their behavior is not in accordance with our core values. Being a good Wingman means standing up for those who can not stand up for themselves. Most importantly, being a good wingman means asking for help from your leadership and other professionals if your fellow brother or sister in arms is in trouble.

In life, there will be times when you are confronted with a difficult situation that requires you to face conflicting loyalties, use moral courage and examine ethical virtues. In these times, you will often be faced with an unpopular decision to ensure the safety and security of your fellow Airmen. When these difficult times arise, all Airmen are charged to be courageous and execute their duties as a wingman and never leave an Airman behind.