What is a Wingman?

  • Published
  • By Col. Mitchell Hanson
  • 301st Fighter Wing

We constantly hear the slogan about being a good wingman, but what exactly does that mean? I’m sure it comes as no surprise that “wingman” is a pilot term that refers to the pattern in which airplanes fly. If you look up the definition of wingman it lists a wingman as:

  1. A pilot in a plane that flies just outside and behind the wing of the leading aircraft in a flight formation, in order to provide protective support.

  2. A person who helps, protects, guides a friend/associate or in other words, watches his back.

I asked one of our instructor pilots in the 457th Fighter Squadron, Maj. Jason Piper, what qualities make a good wingman. In his words, “A wingman does his homework, asks questions, listens, and is always eager to learn. There’s an unspoken bond between us and I know he’s always got my back and when we fly home, he’s always there.”

What do both the dictionary and Maj. Piper’s definitions have in common? A wingman is always there and always has your back. Pause and think about that for a minute. Those are the qualities that we want in our family, friends and co-workers … an unspoken bond. We talk about wingmen and being a good wingman, non-flying, many times in reference to suicide prevention. Numerous studies have shown that if someone, anyone, would have intervened with a person in distress the chances are overwhelmingly positive that the outcome would have been different.

Suicide rates unfortunately continue to climb. It is now the 10th leading cause of death and is one of just three leading causes that are on the rise. The cause of suicide is rarely a single factor and usually is a combination of factors. Some of the reasons are relationship problems, substance abuse, physical health problems, job, legal, money issues or housing stress. Many times people in distress feel alone; This is where being a good wingman comes into play. If someone you know appears to be in distress, use the ACE method. ACE is an acronym that stands for Ask, Care, and Escort. This is how it works:

Ask your Airman, buddy, co-worker or family member direct questions about thoughts of suicide. Ask if they have access to any means of harming themselves, for example, a gun, knife, medications, etc.

Care for him/her by calmly expressing concern and limiting their access to any means for self-harm.

Escort them right away to a helping resource or agency.

And remember: never leave a distressed person alone.

The Air Force is not immune to suicide, Some of our fellow Air Force Reserve units have lost valuable members to suicide in the past year. We have resources available to help here in the 301st Fighter Wing. Our counselor, Mary Arnold, is available 24/7 and can be reached at 817-782-3287 as are our wing chaplains who are available anytime at 817-782-7267.  The United States Air Force has a confidential chat line at militarycrisisline.net as well as a crisis hotline, 1-800-273-8255. There are also other resources available at www.wingmanonline.org and www.bethe1to.com. Please do not hesitate to use them if needed.

Bottom line, get to know the people you work with, you work for and that work for you. If you notice something different with their behavior be a good wingman and have their back … you just may save a life.


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