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Wingman day, mishap prevention, and Air Force core values

  • Published
  • By Col. Mike McKenna
  • Chief of Safety, Air Force Flight Test Center
The longer I serve in our Air Force the more I realize that everything we do falls back upon our core values. Integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do define who we are as people and what we are all about as a force. They are the essence of our profession. Today, we focus on our "wingman." As I reflect on what characteristics make a good wingman, I again come back to our core values. Not only do integrity, service and excellence define a good wingman, they are in themselves the best wingman we have.

As I reflect further, these same core values are our greatest mishap prevention tool. That wingman within each of us guides our every action and, in essence, keeps us safe. Most of our mishaps are the result of complacency, not following written procedures, inattention, putting personal convenience ahead of mission focus, and not taking action to remove hazards.

Think about it. Ask any Airman what integrity first means and you'll hear answers like, "Doing what's right, even when no one else is looking." How does that prevent mishaps? Well, doing what's right means you will use your checklist, follow your technical orders and work cards. You will wear the proper protective gear. Hey, you'll even drive the speed limits and wear your seat belt - all the time, not just when approaching radar or seat belt checkpoints!

Doing what's right, as a good wingman, means being there to prevent your buddy from doing something wrong or unsafe. It means having the courage to intervene and not walk away from a fellow airman in need or a situation that could lead to a mishap.

Service before self means putting your own self interests or personal conveniences aside, and answering a higher call or a greater need. As a good wingman, that means you are always there to help your buddy, and your wingman knows you can be counted upon, no matter when or what the issue may be. The same applies to mishap prevention. Placing your self interest aside means you don't rush the job, cut corners, or speed by an Airman in need because you want to get home early. Service also means if you see a hazard, you take action to eliminate that hazard before it causes a mishap. If you don't do it, who will?

To me, another important aspect of service before self is that you have to have a "self-first," before you can serve. What I mean by that is you must be mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally fit, stable, and secure, so that when the call comes to serve - and it will come - you can serve with the excellence demanded by our third core value, excellence in all you do. Take care of yourself, recharge, do the things that make you feel good inside, and relax when you can.

A previous boss once told me that at the end of every day you should not judge yourself by what you accomplished that day. Instead, judge yourself by what you should have accomplished, given your abilities. Once again, the third core value is our wingman. It tells us to put our whole self, all of our abilities, intellect, compassion, heart and soul into the task at hand. Give it our all, on- and off-duty, whether accomplishing our job or helping an Airman in need. Excellence in all we do also prevents mishaps. It helps keep us safe and prevents mishaps. Again, think about it: Is being complacent about a task or about wearing a seat belt, or ignoring written guidance and procedures or cheating or taking shortcuts excellence in all you do?

Doing what's right, being fit to serve, placing service before self interests and always doing your best are the best wingman tools we have. Live these core values and you'll be the best wingman you can be for others, and you too will prevent mishaps. Those same inner core values are always there to be your wingman and keep you safe. You can't ask for a better wingman than that. Wingman day and mishap prevention - like everything else, they all boil down to the Air Force core values.

And hey, be careful out there!