Air Force: Serving as America's wingman

SPANGHDALEM AIR BASE, GERMANY -- Imagine ... You're in an sport utility vehicle, speeding down the road, talking and laughing with your buddy who's driving. You're in a hurry to reach your destination, so your buddy asks as you approach an intersection, "anything your way?" You look out your window and respond, "all clear." You're being polite and you're being efficient as you speed on through ... but it's not just about you, it's about being a wingman.

Now, imagine you're in that same SUV, but this time, you're in Iraq. You and your buddy are decked out in body armor, you've got an M-16 on your lap and you're still in a hurry. You don't want to stop because you don't want to make yourself an even bigger target. The very same look out your window and response of "all clear" is no longer just you being polite and efficient -- it's you trying to stay alive. It's not just about you, it's about being a wingman.

I found myself learning that lesson about two years ago, when I deployed.
For those of you who don't know me, I'm a public affairs officer by trade. Though, it's practically been born and bred into me. My parents were English teachers while I was growing up and I was probably fed more 'proper grammar' than I was 'proper meals.' Therefore, it seemed perfectly natural that I ended up coming into the Air Force in 2000 as a PAO.

At that time, I didn't really think of myself as either a warrior or a wingman; in fact, neither term probably ever even crossed my mind. Then came Sept. 11, and the Air Force started to become more warrior-centric. Yet, as a PAO, I still didn't spend much time worrying about ending up in a warrior role. I figured if, or when, I deployed, I'd be safe and secure ... working smack in the middle of the camp ... right next to the commander -- essentially, as far from the 'front-lines' or any danger as possible. I figured the day I'd have to use my weapon would be about the blackest day ever, as it would probably mean the base had been overrun by the enemy.

Six months into my second assignment, at headquarters Army and Air Force Exchange Service, I got a call during my Christmas leave telling me I needed to cancel the rest of my leave and be ready to deploy four days later. I deployed with all my misconceptions still firmly in place. What I thought was going to be a purely PA job downrange, rapidly became much more.

I scheduled convoy support to move merchandise from Kuwait into Iraq. I visited every military installation in Kuwait as an AAFES liaison officer. And, I provided security on convoys in Iraq.

I went from only having to worry about what article to write and who to try and convince to run it, to having to worry about the lives of my buddies in those SUVs. It was a wake-up call and it taught me that it wasn't just about me anymore it was about being a wingman. It's about looking out for those around me in order to make sure we all stayed safe and were able to accomplish the mission.

In today's Air Force, it's imperative we are all good wingmen first. You've got to be a good wingman before you could ever be someone others would want to go to war with. The people around you need to know, really know, that you've got their six. That it's not just about you -- that you're looking out for them and their interests, too.
Sound familiar?

Isn't that also the role of the military? To protect our country and its interests? The military doesn't just have wingmen, the military is a wingman. It is America's wingman. In the military, it's not just about us, it's about our great nation. We put our service to the country before ourselves. We stand guard over our fellow American's keeping them safe and secure. We watch out for them and protect their interests.

Being a wingman, our country's wingman, is the most important thing we do. It's our job.
Whether you're filling an Army in-lieu-of tasking or you're back here making sure the homefront is secure, someone is counting on you. Someone you work with, a friend on base, and America's citizens are counting on you to be their wingman.

Because, it's not just about you or me ... it's all about being a wingman.