Are you a good wingman? Hint: it isn't easy, but each has role in protecting others

  • Published
  • By Col. Christopher Azzano
  • 412th Operations Group commander
To anyone familiar with the movie "Top Gun", the term "wingman" might conjure up images of daring young aviators - inseparable friends flying jets by day and partaking in the night life only a military club on the beach can offer.

But real Airmen know better. We've seen the Wingman Ethos rise above the glamour of Hollywood. We know it as the fundamental element of effective airpower that defines our Air Force culture. It is the essence of what it means to be an Airman, on and off the battlefield...on and off duty.

So reflect for a moment. As a valued member of the Edwards team, are you a good wingman? If you can't answer immediately, consider the history behind wingmanship and the roles good wingmen perform in both their personal and professional lives.

The first air battles occurred almost 100 years ago in the skies over Europe. They were unrefined compared to air combat in the 21st century, involving only a few aircraft with rudimentary capabilities. Aerial engagements were won by finding the adversary before he found you and delivering a lethal barrage of machine gun fire to his "six o'clock." Tacticians quickly learned the importance of having a wingman "check six" to negate the element of surprise. This doctrine of mutual support became fundamental to wingmanship and has remained throughout the evolution of airpower.

Today, being a good wingman requires years of practice and experience, a proactive problem-solving mindset, and the courage to confront potential life or death situations. In the flying community, the most seasoned aviators develop tactics, techniques, and procedures to help grow good wingmen and enhance combat effectiveness through life-saving mutual support. This type of teamwork is no less important in our daily lives.

So I ask again: are you a good wingman? Do you have a proactive mindset with mutual support of friends, family, and co-workers as its centerpiece? Do you know where to find your wingman tactics, techniques, and procedures?

A great place to start is the "4 Dimensions of Wellness" website ( or your "Wingman Boldface" card. If you need one, see your unit commander or first sergeant. Knowing what to look for - how to "check six" - is probably the most important wingman TTP.

Start by asking who in your unit, neighborhood, or community needs a friend or wingman. Keep an eye on those around you. Reach out to someone who may be coping with the stress of work or a personal crisis.

Also, ask yourself if you're prepared to confront someone who has impaired judgment, or is about to make a bad decision. How often have you seen a friend or co-worker reach for the keys after a few too many drinks, or jump on a motorcycle without a helmet? Are you "checking six" for the people in your organization and in your personal life, even when it involves stepping outside your comfort zone? Or do you take the easy way out? This type of confrontation takes courage and persistence, but in my experience, it is well worth the short-term challenge and leads to a more robust and effective work force, not to mention lifelong friendships - some where you least expect to find them.

"Goose" and "Maverick" may have played the ideal wingmen on the big screen, but they were only actors following a script. As members of the Edwards team, you have the privilege to both live AND understand the wingman culture, a culture founded on support and respect for people as our greatest resource. Each of you has a role in protecting this resource that only YOU can fulfill.

So please, don't take the easy way out. Find someone who needs mutual support today, and BE A GOOD WINGMAN!