What makes a wingman?

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- The single greatest characteristic of Americans is their willingness to accept a challenge. That statement in and of itself could venture down many paths, but take a moment to consider how often you've personally challenged yourself.

Have you ever looked at a sudoku board, a crossword or a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle and thought, "no problem," only to still be working on it two weeks later? The truth is that they are typically more difficult than they first appear.

Today's wingman concept is nothing new. Col. Francis "Gabby" Gabreski, an early Air Force pioneer who is credited with 28 aerial victories in WWII, said this:
"The wingman is absolutely indispensable. I look after the wingman. The wingman looks after me. It's another set of eyes protecting you. That's the defensive part."

"Offensively, it gives you a lot more firepower. We work together. We fight together. The wingman knows what his responsibilities are and knows what mine are. Wars are not won by individuals. They're won by teams."

Today, the strategy of having a good wingman is still relevant, but its application reaches far beyond the arena of aerial assault. When fighter pilots lift off into the great expanses of the sky, they may not know what threats lie beyond the horizon. Similarly, with each new day, we have no idea what lies ahead.

The common denominator is that daily challenges are conquered by responsible choices, and creating a culture of responsible choices is reinforced by the presence of a good wingman. In the spirit of the Gabreski quote, "personal battles are not won by individuals; they are won by the reinforcement of good wingmen."

The challenge, like a thousand- piece puzzle, is that it can sometimes be more difficult than it first appears. The path of least resistance shouts for us to do nothing while a fellow Airman makes a life or careerthreatening decision; however, accepting the challenge of being a comrade in arms is a daily whisper for us to courageously be involved. The moral courage to do the right thing is more than just ornamented words; it is the foundation of our Air Force Core Values: Integrity First.

One could say the acronym TEAM stands for "Together Everyone Achieves More." For centuries, armed forces have strategized how their individuals can operate as a unit on the battlefield.

Unity is the key to effectiveness: If we want the "more," then we must have the "together." Your role as a sterling wingman is vital to any level of success.

In the coming year, imagine zero incidents of driving under the influence, zero substance abuse cases, zero safety incidents, zero domestic violence reports and zero suicides. If we achieved this vision, our Air Force would be heralded as a picture of strength and community.

This puzzle begins with a thousand little pieces, and even though it may be more difficult than it first appears, what a beautiful picture it will be when all the pieces come together.

Your piece of the puzzle is important. Make good decisions. Let's all be a part of the solution.