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101 Critical Days of Summer week 3: Friends

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- I found it highly entertaining, yet a little disturbing doing a recent search of the word "Wingman" on the internet. The top hits mocked the concept: a designated wingman leaving his socially inept buddy during a party to hang out with a group of females; websites dedicated to how to attract a member of the opposite sex; even ones that guarantee to cure loneliness. I was surprised to see that in society outside of the Air Force, there is really nothing dedicated to a Wingman-type approach in looking out for those who matter the most.

About nine or 10 hits down, I started to see things that are related to the Air Force; stuff that is pounded into us from the day we went to Basic Military Training. A lot of the Wingman concept seems regurgitated or recycled in some way or shape. That's because it is. I have heard countless briefings and read multiple stories regarding, "what the Wingman concept means to me." In some stories, the author expresses his or her idea of what it is and then asks "What does the Wingman concept mean to you?"

That brings me back to my web search on the word itself and how society has seemed to water it down. It may be silly, but to an extent, is a reflection on how everyday folks think and act. Society can mock all they want; it's easy to drum up another guy or gal to work the lunch counter when one crashes and burns. In our world, it really means something because we are on the front lines, and frankly, we are a limited resource.

I had the honor to work as an enlisted accessions recruiter for three years. For every seven people that walked into my office stating "I'm ready and willing to join the U.S. Air Force," only one was qualified; not even including the physical exam. It does not matter who you are, where you come from or what your job is... we were each the one out of seven who could actually make it. And you wonder why we have terms like "tip of the spear" and "best of the best" - because we are.

But even the best have their moments of weakness. This is the time when the concept of being there for one another needs action to follow. We all think of the most opportune times: A buddy that has too much to drink or a coworker having thoughts of hurting themselves. But it does not happen enough at a lower level, like a friend taking a long trip home with a short turnaround, or a coworker planning home improvements with limited experience. Even on the job; like a pal using the wrong tool for the job or someone cutting corners during a task so they can get out 10 minutes early.

Taking action at these times can be a hard thing to do and often takes courage. It is like leading; influencing others to take a specific action or to think a certain way. It is going against the flow, the opposite of what most everyday society does. There's the shop nay-sayer chiming in with, "Why do we have to do this" or "This is a waste of time." Others may think that action at this level really does not make a difference. If you can change the thought process of just one Airman, one friend or one family member, it really does make a difference. It transforms the thought of "I will be there if and when someone needs me" to "I am always there, regardless of the situation."

Mainstream society should get the term "Wingman" straightened out. In our circle, we get what it means and understand the importance. Never forget to act on it though; don't wait until a potentially life-changing event awakens you with a slap to the face. In the small, everyday moments, take the time and be a Wingman to your friends, coworkers and family members. You may very well squash an underlying issue before it ever has the opportunity to take shape.
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