Eielson highlights wingman culture locally
By Compiled from staff reports, 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 16, 2006
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- The Iceman Team will take a break from normal operations Nov. 22 to focus on another area essential to its mission success - taking care of each other.
Eielson will join bases across Pacific Air Forces in teaching and reinforcing the Air Force's "wingman culture," a consciousness designed to strengthen the morale and welfare of units by devoting time to building relationships between co-workers, examining organizational strengths and vulnerabilities and planning.
Though formal recognition of the wingman program will occur Wednesday, being a good wingman is a 24/7/365 responsibility.
"The wingman concept has its roots in our Air Force history and applies across the board," said Brig. Gen. Dave Scott, 354th Fighter Wing commander. "Whether we're fighting the war in a deployed environment, at home keeping the mission going or enjoying free time, the wingman mentality should always be at the forefront of our minds - take care of one another and know that you're taken care of."
Gen. Paul Hester, PACAF commander, further highlighted the importance of the wingman culture in a recent letter: "Our Airmen make daily sacrifices to be a part of a unique and dynamic culture. This culture, inspired by our core values, commits our Airmen to take care of their fellow Airmen. This is what being a wingman is all about."
Since the beginning of fighter and attack aviation, pilots established roles and responsibilities between wingmen and flight leads. This interdependence improved both the survivability of aircraft in combat and the probability of mission success.
Several years ago the Air Force decided to expand this wingman culture from fighter pilots to every member of the Air Force family with the key theme of "Airmen helping Airmen." From mission planning to debrief, there are many examples of how the roles and responsibilities of two captains flying fighters in enemy territory can transfer to two A1Cs driving to Fairbanks to enjoy the festivities on a Saturday night.
For example, listed below are just a few of the questions a wingman and flight lead are required to discuss during mission briefings prior to flight:
1. Where are we going? What are we going to do?
2. How is the weather? What is the weather backup mission?
3. How much "play time" in the target area do we have? What is our land time?
4. If we lose sight of each other, how will we get back together?
5. How will we handle emergencies?
It is easy to see the parallels between a fighter briefing and two young Airmen preparing to go to Fairbanks on a weekend night. The bottom line is to follow the advice on the sign most people see leaving Eielson: have a plan, stick to the plan, if the plan fails, use your safety net.
Once in the air, wingmen and flight leads position themselves to "check six," to warn each other of enemy aircraft or surface-to-air missile threats that approach from blind spots behind or under their jets. One of the worst radio calls a wingman can make is the "blind" call and both wingman and flight lead will do everything in their power to quickly regain "visual." In the same way, the young Airmen out for a night of enjoyment in Fairbanks need to position themselves to keep the "visual" to assist each other. From helping the driver at night detect the stray moose crossing the Richardson Highway to "checking six" for potential threats at the nightclub or bar, Airmen must constantly strive to maintain the "visual."
Another critical responsibility for pilots is to perceive high stress levels in their wingmen. Some stress is necessary to keep pilots alert and ready for danger, but too much stress will compromise both the mission and flight safety. The primary method pilots use in the air to notice unhealthy stress levels is lack of communication. Is the wingman missing or not making radio calls? Is the wingman slow to respond or responds incorrectly?
Finally, a good wingman brings home his other flight member no matter what the circumstances. One of the most classic examples in fighter aviation is the story of "Pardo's Push." In 1967, both Captain Bob Pardo and his wingman sustained fuel tank damage to their F-4s from North Vietnamese gunners over Hanoi. However, his wingman was losing fuel at a much faster rate, and Captain Pardo realized his wingman would not make it back to friendly territory before running out of gas. He decided to do something unusual and untested by having his wingman drop his tail hook while he flew his F-4 under his wingman's jet. Despite the end of the tail hook cracking his canopy, Captain Pardo "pushed" his wingman through the air more than 85 miles to friendly territory. With both aircraft now out of gas, the pilots ejected in Laos and were quickly picked up by rescue helicopters.
If your wingman has sustained "battle damage" from large amounts of alcohol, it is your responsibility to get them home safe. If both of you have sustained "battle damage," there are many other wingmen ready to fly you back home in the Airmen Against Drunk Driving program. Just like pilots flying combat, have a good "wounded bird" plan to get everyone home safe.
From mission planning to the return flight home, a wingman culture in the air and on the ground will help save not only combat aircraft but also valuable Air Force lives and careers. From Christmas parties to snowmobile adventures this winter, find a good wingman to fly with you. Also, if you see an Airman flying solo, get on his or her wing to make our Air Force family stronger and safer.