By Senior Airman Kailie M. Dougherty
89th Communications Squadron
In December of 2010, I was one of three Airmen tasked by my commander, Lt. Col. Bryan Richardson, 89th Communications Squadron commander, to brief my 200-member squadron on the importance of what I thought being a good wingman meant. If you could only imagine my reaction when I found out my commander had challenged me with a task so large. It made me feel important as an Airman to have that responsibility. It even brought value to me as a wingman, to know that my leadership wanted to hear my opinion.
I began to think. I thought about my life before and during my Air Force career. I thought of my family, who thankfully was always there for me. I thought of my friends, peers, and leaders, but there was one day I just couldn’t get out of my head.
During the fall of 2008, I had the quietest day of my Air Force career. I remember it like it was yesterday. That day nobody spoke, we had our mission to focus on. We began with the morning brief, sat at our consoles and started our morning radio checks. It was painful to see all the held back tears in my fellow Airmen’s eyes. It was only hours prior that one of our wingmen had lost his life to a motorcycle accident. We all knew he was never coming back. I felt sad and out of place. I was practically the newest Airman to the squadron. I didn’t know what to say or how to react. So I said nothing.
After going over that painful memory over and over again, I wanted to go back and tell them all that they can lean on me. I wanted to help them through the terrible ordeal that occurred. To this day I wish my actions would have reflected what I think a wingman truly is. The following is what I said to my squadron …
“Each and every person is a wingman. Whether in your past or present, you have opened yourself up to someone in a time of need. You have made someone laugh or helped someone in pain. For some, a wingman can be your spouse or child or your parent. For others, your wingman can be your fellow Airmen, your neighbor or even the pizza guy that delivers to your dorm every night. We are all wingmen.
You don’t have to be physically strong or even highly educated to be a wingman. You don’t have to go to a special class or sit through another 20-session Computer Based Training on how to be a wingman. You just have to be you.
Some may not be that wingman for a particular person when another is, and that’s okay. Everyone is different, everyone has different needs. The main thing you have to know about being a wingman is that you don’t always have to be the hero. Sometimes you have to sit and just listen. Try to be the best you can be and, at the end of the day, don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back.
A key aspect of being a wingman is to help yourself before helping others. This might seem selfish, but if you don’t help yourself first you will not be able to help your fellow wingman to the best of your ability. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everyone needs a shoulder to lean on at one point in their life. You don’t always have to be the wingman every time. Be strong and open minded and you will come to realize that everyone needs a wingman.
Whether you are in a bad relationship or maybe someone close has passed on, you may need a helping hand. During hard times, many people feel it is their duty to act strong and keep their bearing, when in all honesty, they may not feel that way. But that doesn’t mean you shut everyone out. As wingmen, we are like family. We naturally seek fellow camaraderie between our Airmen. We want that emotional acceptance to help raise our spirits.
You develop a certain bond between the men and women you meet throughout your life. These bonds are almost like adopting a new brother or sister, or even a parent. Someone you know will always care about you. Someone who might have seen you at your very worst, but is still there to pull you up by your boot straps or lend a shoulder to get you through any troubles…someone like a fellow wingman.
In conclusion, I was given the task on what I think a wingman is. Looking back, I realize that each and every person has a different definition of a wingman. In my eyes, the word wingman shouldn’t be so much defined, as it should be honored. I don’t believe it should be a duty to be a wingman, but a moral responsibility in the hearts of every man and woman reading this today. It should be one of the many traditions that the Air Force holds – not only to our country but to ourselves.” Thank you.