Teamwork: Single constant to success as Wingmen

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- As I sit down to write this article, I take stock in my life and realize how blessed I've been throughout the years. I have a beautiful family, good health and have been fortunate enough to be blessed with above average athletic abilities. I've played competitive sports on multiple teams, in multiple states, on nearly all levels from grade school to high school and college through semi-pro. There's one thread of continuity common to all those teams -- camaraderie, loyalty and teamwork.

Regardless of the age or demographic composition of those different teams, the one constant permeating throughout was an uncanny sense of belonging and loyalty we all felt for each other. Certainly, I got along better with some teammates than others, and there were definitely guys I gravitated towards for the after game refreshment more than others. But I had the back of every man on the roster and I knew without exception every last man on the roster had my back as well.

In that regard, the military culture is very similar to the personal dynamics of my past sports teams. We train, deploy and fight as a unit whose outcome -- life, death, freedom and liberty -- are stakes orders of magnitude higher than a simple sporting contest.

However, in addition to the oath we all swear to uphold and defend the Constitution, we also hold a sacred duty and responsibility to each other. We are teammates in pursuit of protecting this country and preserving our way of life for ours and our descendant's generations.

The Air Force has captured and defined this concept in its Wingman program. The basic intent is to remind each of us of our daily commitment to our "teammates" and their families, and to take positive actions to protect them from harm.

The original intent of the Wingman program was to codify a set of actions each Airman should take in the presence of a potentially suicidal teammate. While those actions are important, the Wingman concept extends far beyond looking for external signs of suicide. As commanders, we have the ultimate responsibility for the total welfare of the Airman assigned to our units -- physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually.

Now, it's unreasonable to expect commanders to be with every Airman, everywhere, at all times; but it is reasonable to expect us to build a culture that promotes the "one team, one fight" mentality. That culture should encourage us to put the welfare of our teammates first and to ensure we hold each other responsible for making safe and reasoned choices whether they are having a few less drinks at the club, prearranging a designated driver, receiving the proper training, wearing the proper protective equipment before undertaking any risky activities, or offering to have a despondent teammate over for dinner.

Our ultimate victory is not possible without the men and women responsible for executing the mission. Remember, regardless of our racial, spiritual or geographic background, we are all teammates competing in the uncompromising game of freedom and liberty. We need everyone mentally, physically and emotionally prepared -- take care of your teammate!