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Be a wingman

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. David Martinson
  • 319th Missile Squadron commander
When I was in Baghdad in 2007, the war was in its most violent period since the fall of Saddam Hussein. I felt ill-prepared for the chaos and death that seemed to be persistent on a daily basis. I had left the Pentagon for the desert to be the number two man in Iraq's version of the Secret Service. My mission was to keep the top seven Iraqi leaders alive. This was no small task and I had no idea that two months into the job I would become the man in charge of the entire operation.

Every day I would get intelligence reports from my staff on the various threats against our "Tier Ones," as the top seven leaders were known. More personally disturbing were reports about the threats against my team. We had no less than three distinct entities that had kidnapping warrants against us and I knew there were never any live prisoner exchanges with our enemy. There were many close brushes with danger. The constant rocket and mortar attacks and improvised explosive devices were a daily reminder. I was fortunate to have a great wingman in Baghdad, who helped me cope with the stresses of being at war and being responsible for the lives of many. He was a member of the Australian Air Force, Squadron Leader Lewis Frederickson.

Frederickson kept me centered with his sage advice, sound wisdom and, most importantly, his tremendous humor that he shared with me daily. I appreciated his friendship and perspective because he helped me deal with the monotonous day-to-day, yet abruptly changing environment we had to work and live in. He listened when I needed someone to talk to and provided excellent advice when I was suddenly placed in charge when my boss was relieved of duty. He reminded me to focus on the mission and to take care of my people and, equally important, to take care of myself. We talk about being a good wingman in Air Force Global Strike Command, squadron leader Frederickson most definitely was mine in the worst of places.

When I returned from the war, I encountered a whole new set of challenges I had not anticipated. I had been away from my family for nearly nine months. I was disconnected from my friends and felt uninspired by the job I returned to. Additionally, I still had residual effects from the violence I had witnessed and experienced. It was difficult adjusting to family life again. Through all this another wingman was there for me, Lt. Col. Dan McGibney. He will always be a wonderful American in my view.

Colonel McGibney and I worked together at the Pentagon. When I was in Baghdad, he made sure he kept in touch with me downrange and kept watch over my family at home. He was the first person outside of my family to greet me when I came home and went out of his way to ensure I felt I had someone to talk to. He could sense things were not quite right with me and in a nonintrusive way kept me engaged with acclimating to life outside the combat zone. His actions reinforced to me how vital it is we all have a wingman we can count on. Being a good wingman makes a difference and helps keep our warriors mentally prepared and physically safe.

Every Airman has a role as a wingman. All levels of command have a responsibility to be a wingman. As a commander, I have the responsibility for the total welfare of the men and women assigned to my squadron. It is my duty to recognize when someone needs help and to direct them to the right place to get that help. Flight commanders, crew commanders, NCOs-in-charge and supervisors are the first line of defense for the Airmen they lead. They are in the best position to recognize the first signs of trouble and to listen and take action. I encourage all Airmen to lead by example and to be a good wingman. Take care of yourself and take care of your buddy. Most importantly, take action when you see signs of stress. Being a good wingman is essential to accomplishing our wing mission of providing preeminent combat capability across the spectrum of conflict.