July 28th, 2006 05:52 EST
Airman reflects on true meaning of Wingmen
Commentary by Senior Airman Francesca Carrano
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFPN) -- In today's Air Force culture we often hear people reference Wingmen. It has become almost cliché -- "Do you have a Wingman?"
But really, who are these mystical little creatures, this race or culture who is supposed to take care of us?
I've been thinking about it a lot lately. Maybe because my time in the Air Force is coming to a close, and I am nostalgic; maybe I've simply had too much time on my hands. Either way, I want to share what I've come to learn -- being a Wingman is, surprisingly, not about you.
When I first came to my office, straight out of technical school, I wondered if I was ever going to have a Wingman. You see, I was under the misconception that a Wingman needed to be a specific, designated person whose additional duty was to watch my back.
Over the last few years a myriad of circumstances have taught me that being a Wingman means more than looking out for the people I work with or someone I know from the dorms or have seen in the dining facility. A true Wingman is there no matter what the circumstance, no matter who is in need.
In his book "Invisible Lines of Connection," Lawrence Kushner shares the story of a young woman sitting near the back of a bus, riding home, during the early days of World War II. Suddenly, the bus is stopped by Nazi agents. The agents demanded everyone show them their papers. As the agents systematically work their way through the bus, sending all Jewish riders to a waiting truck, the young woman began to shake uncontrollably. A man sitting next to her leaned over and asked what was wrong.
The young girl whispered back to the man that she did not hold the same papers he did -- she was a Jew. Instantly, the man jumped to his feet and began yelling at the top of his voice. He cursed her, said he wished he had never laid eyes on her -- she made him sick and disgusted. The agents stopped what they were doing and rushed to the rear of the bus to find the reason for this huge commotion.
The man, exacerbated, explained that his wife had forgotten her papers again. How could she be so careless? The Nazi agents laughed and left the bus, amused at the man's misfortune having such a stupid wife.
When the bus came to the next stop the man and the young woman both stepped off and walked in opposite directions. Neither ever knowing the other's name, but knowing that moment saved a young woman's life.
Long before the term was established, the man on the bus gave us a perfect example of what it means to be a Wingman.
Being a true Wingman is selfless. It transcends race, culture, jobs and upbringing. As members of the Air Force, we face challenges every day that many of our counterparts will never even understand, let alone experience. These daily challenges are what bind us together as brothers and sisters at arms.
Nowhere else will we find a work environment or corporation like ours. It is each of our responsibility to ensure the health and well being of our fellow Airmen.
Being a Wingman is the most important thing we can do. It may be as simple as a smile while passing in the hall or inviting a new coworker to the gym or as difficult as consoling someone who has just lost a family member. Being a good Wingman to someone else is bigger than any one person. It is a way of life.
What I'm trying to say is Wingmen aren't perfect little fairy godmothers following us around ensuring nothing goes wrong. The power is ours to make a difference. Each day, look around yourself for opportunities to be a Wingman to someone else.
Whatever avenue presents itself -- seize it. It could change someone else's life.