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Never leave an Airman behind

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Magen M. Reeves
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
"The wingman is absolutely indispensable," said Lt. Col. Francis S. "Gabby" Gabreski, retired Air Force officer. "I look after the wingman. The wingman looks after me. It's another set of eyes protecting you."

When Airman Ethan Byrd and Airman 1st Class Francesco Duquette arrived at Malmstrom Air Force Base in the first week of July, they had no idea that in less than one month they would be tested as wingmen.

Byrd and Duquette attended technical training together before being assigned to the 341st Missile Security Forces Squadron.

"We went to (technical) school together but we never talked to each other, not really," said Byrd. "We didn't talk until we got here."

On Aug. 1, 2015, Byrd, Duquette and a small group of people went hiking in Sluice Boxes State Park. The Airmen were having a good time for several hours exploring the area when Duquette stepped on a loose gravel area and fell approximately 150 feet down a cliff, hitting a tree on his way down.

"You know when someone gets hurt or there's danger around your heart beats faster and you get that adrenaline rush. I didn't get that because I thought he was dead," said Byrd. "I thought, 'there's no way he could survive that fall.'"

Byrd called down to Duquette, lying bent and bloody, not expecting a response. However, Duquette miraculously responded.

"As soon as I heard him call back I ran as fast as I could down that hill," said Byrd.

Duquette had dislocated his elbow in the fall and had a massive gash in his wrist, which just barely missed being a fatal injury.

"His joint was snapped all the way over, stretching the skin out to the side," said Byrd. "I tried to keep him calm so he didn't go into shock and support him. I called Mercy Flight and called his supervisor for help."

Byrd and a group of civilians kept Duquette conscious.

"There were some people there who helped Byrd bandage my wrist and made a sling for my arm," said Duquette. "If Byrd wasn't there, I probably just would have passed out. Byrd being there was a big morale booster."

Byrd administered basic first aid to Duquette amidst the stress of dealing with an injured friend as well as the stress of dealing with additional people in a serious situation.

"I was afraid because other people there trying to help were panicking and I just wanted to keep him calm," said Byrd. "I didn't want Duquette to get even more hurt. I wanted to keep him safe the best I could."

The phone calls Byrd made enabled Duquette to be rescued by the 40th Helicopter Squadron and airlifted to Benefis Hospital in Great Falls, Montana to receive medical care.

"It was a relief knowing that Byrd was going to be there the whole way through," said Duquette. "The whole thing brought us closer together as wingmen. Byrd was at the hospital every single day to make sure I was OK. It felt good to know my wingman is always there."

Both Airmen learned valuable lessons about wingmanship that day.

"When something goes down, wingmen should take immediate steps to help their wingman out," said Maj. Jeremy Sheppard, 341st MSFS commander. "Be with them and provide them the support they might need. Don't leave their side.  Every Airman is a wingman."

Byrd learned what being a wingman in a situation like the one he found himself would call for.

"You actually buck up and deal with the situation," said Byrd. "You don't try to run away from it. You make phone calls, take action, and deal with it."

Duquette learned the importance of why Airmen should always have a wingman close by.

"Make sure you are always close to someone, always have your wingman," said Duquette. "If I'd have been alone, without Byrd, I don't know..."

All Airmen should also take extra precautions when participating in risky activities. Always have a wingman. Always have a plan.

"Make sure you are aware of your surroundings," said Duquette. "Don't do something asinine, like fall down a cliff."

The Air Force encourages the wingman system to ensure that our Airmen have someone they can trust to have their back. We all could benefit from the extra set of eyes and ears, as well as the extra heart.

"Get to know your people," said Sheppard. "Every Airman has a story. Get to know those incredible back stories.  Also, we all need to know what 'right' looks like. It could be as simple as catching the signs of an Airman in distress. We all need to be 'all in.'"

Because of the acts of a wingman, a fellow Airman wasn't alone in his time of need.