Off-base incidents betray our wingman culture

  • Published
  • By Col. Doug Wickert
  • 412th Test Wing

Team Edwards, this week I finished my initial orientations of the groups and staff agencies. Each immersion tour validated my high expectations and further bolstered my pride in the outstanding manner in which our combined team executes the Test enterprise here at Edwards, at Plant 42 and at other 412th Test Wing detachments throughout the country. The complexity of our mission and the dedication I’ve seen – from the base gates to Rocket Ridge, from the North and Main Base work areas to the Edwards family housing area, and every place in between – have left me with a renewed sense of awe about what it means to be an American Airman – military and civilian. The men and women I have met have absolutely blown me away by their demonstration of our shared values, pride in job performance and dedication to our nation.

That sense of pride, however, is diminished when a few among us fail to abide by our core values. In the last month, there have been several unfortunate incidents where our teammates have abused the trust we’ve earned and receive from our fellow citizens in the local community to gain special favor or pursue selfish endeavors, bringing discredit to both the Air Force and the core values that guide us. I’m particularly disappointed having learned that in each of these off-bases incidents – incidents that threaten to tarnish our good reputation in surrounding communities – our Air Force wingman culture within the 412th Test Wing completely failed us. In the spirit of candor and transparency and since I believe we can learn from these lapses in judgment, I want to share the details with you:

  • Last month, a group of uniformed wing Airmen were perceived as bullying Emergency Room staff of a local health care provider, to include ignoring staff orders. None in the group took action to correct the behavior.
  • Days later, several of our teammates sold an inappropriate “morale” patch to a local woman and her teen granddaughter at the Antelope Valley Fair. This was further exacerbated by our teammates teasing and laughing at the unsuspecting pair who did not understand the patch’s sexual inuendo and off-color references. Dozens of the same patch had, by that point, already been sold by our teammates wearing their unit morale shirts and with the Air Force and U.S. flags displayed behind them. Once more, no member of that unit – subordinate, peer or leader – took action to stop the planned activity or the unacceptable behavior at the time.
  • And then earlier this month, at a squadron function, our teammates illegally brought liquor into an off-base establishment, refused to comply with employee direction, were perceived to be disrespectful to other patrons and, in the case of at least one in the group, were grossly disrespectful to staff. Again, there were no wingmen, among what should have been a group of wingmen, who stepped in to stop the behavior.

In each of these three instances, which occurred within as many weeks of each other, representatives of our U.S. Air Force made our fellow Americans – our community supporters – feel that their self-esteem was being ridiculed and mocked and their dignity violated, and made them question whether their trust in American servicemembers was misplaced. Three squadron and group commander-level phone calls, two personal letters of apology and two leadership visits later, I find myself asking, “When will the next one be?”

I trust and expect our entire team to rally around a common answer to that question.

I also ask that we contemplate the answer to these next questions: 1) Do I and my wingmen have the right view of who we are as Airmen, our contributions to our country, and the image we project daily to those we serve?  2) Do we possess the personal courage and integrity to intervene when we see inappropriate conduct?  I would like us all to openly discuss these questions, within the context of these recent incidents, with colleagues, friends and family members. What would you do in a similar situation?

During my nine weeks at Edwards AFB I have seen and interacted with the very best of American talent and witness widespread and deep professionalism. Our community members get to see only a sliver of that talent and professionalism, but they do see it, and what they see makes a lasting impression. I challenge all of us to work together as trusted wingmen to ensure the excellence we exude at work is truly reflected in everything we do… and everywhere we do it!  

Thank you for your continued sacrifice and service to ensure the 412th Test Wing and Edwards remains the apex of competitive innovation for our country – I’m proud to be a member of this team!