I am an American Airman. Wingman, Leader and Warrior
By Col. Charles Hyde
314th Airlift Wing commander
Fixed wing aircraft entered combat in World War I, but first encounters between rival Airmen brought chivalrous waves rather than direct hostilities. As the impact of airpower’s potential was felt on the battlefield, combatants realized the enormous advantage that control of the air provided, and chivalry turned into a life-or-death struggle in the skies. Single aircraft in combat quickly learned they had blind spots in their six o’clock position and that an unseen enemy was deadly. Wingmen developed out of a necessity to protect against unseen danger.
The role of a wingman is the same today. A good wingman helps us avoid unseen dangers by watching our six. For example, a wingman protects his fellow Airman when their judgment is impaired by alcohol and makes sure they don’t drink and drive.
We are all familiar with this description of being a good wingman, but I would like to offer two other types of unseen danger that a wingman must combat—complacency and “being liked.”
The first unseen danger is complacency and stagnation—the enemies of continuous improvement. As you’ve heard me say before, we face a thinking and adaptive enemy, and we must continually improve to be successful in future battles that we and our students will fight. We are either “green and growing, or ripe and rotting”; the difference is often a wingman that sees our blind spots and challenges us to improve by getting us out of our comfort zone.
The second unseen and insidious danger is the false assumption that “being liked” is equivalent to leadership. Many supervisors fail to correct substandard performance because they believe the individual won’t think as highly of them. In fact, the opposite is true; leaders who care about their troops will insist on high standards and adherence to technical order procedures and directives. In our profession, the standards we set will be measured in mission success during future operations and contingencies. There is a high price for low standards. Good wingmen and professional Airmen show leadership by setting high standards and are usually rewarded by watching their Airmen exceed all expectations. Similarly, units with high standards—uniform, facilities, behavior, professionalism—generate high morale and superior mission performance.
Be a good wingman and don’t let a fellow Airman fall to the unseen enemies of complacency and “being liked.”