Wingmen are family too

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Over the past several years our Air Force has been transformed from a garrison force with infrequent temporary duty assignments and deployments to an expeditionary force consistently primed to rotate Airmen into harm's way. The operational environment driving this change highlighted the absolute necessity of wingmen in our culture.

Long ago, aviators acknowledged the importance of having a supporting pilot on your wing while flying in a hostile environment. Now, non-flying Airmen are accepting the wisdom of these earlier generations. Whether deploying to Kirkuk, Balad, Bagram or Jalalabad, we rely on our brothers and sisters in arms -- our "Wingmen" -- to do everything in their power to accomplish the mission and get us home safely.

The reality is that while downrange your wingman becomes much closer to you than a co-worker or friend. Your wingman becomes family. Where I come from that means something. Families rely on each other, families support each other and families protect each other. We would never dream of allowing a family member to jeopardize their life without good cause. We'd stop them in their tracks to make sure they were thinking straight.

Why then, doesn't this same thought process follow us when we leave the area of responsibility and redeploy? In many cases, our wingmen downrange are the same folks at our side when we're at home. They're still family no matter where we are. We still take care of each other at work and at play. So why do we allow our family members to risk theirs lives and their careers? Why do we allow our family members to drink irresponsibly and then get behind the wheel of a car? It doesn't make sense. It goes against the very core of our Airman culture and our creed.

In our creed we pledge to "never leave an Airman behind." This sentiment does not only apply to combat, it applies to all aspects of our lives. As Airmen we must take care of our wingmen in any situation. We don't let our wingmen drink and drive and we don't let them get into situations which would risk their lives or bring discredit upon our Air Force. Your wingmen are part of your family so don't let them down.