Notes from the Commander
The Wingman Imperative
"Today, being a wingman is about more than flying aircraft in formation. It is about Airmen taking care of Airmen, about being there to support each other, in all situations, on duty and off. " - MSgt Scott Sturkol USAF
Everyone looked up to Richard. He was handsome, well-liked, and a multi-sport athlete. After graduating from High School with honors, he went on to a top university, attained multiple undergraduate and graduate degrees, and opened a psychiatry practice in midtown Manhattan.
Sharon was the third of five siblings. Like Richard, she was well-liked and popular with her classmates; she was a good student and a varsity field-hockey player. During her Senior year of High School she won an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, where she excelled, and, after four years, was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. She completed her Basic Officer Leader School and began her first command assignment in the Signal Corps. After four years, she went on to take advanced leadership training and continued her service, rapidly rising through the ranks and receiving highly sought-after assignments.
On the surface, both Richard and Sharon appear to have it made. Intelligent, popular, successful - respected by their peers and held up as examples to be emulated.
What you don't see, however, tells a different story. Five years after opening his practice in Manhattan, Richard closed his practice and disappeared. Members of his country club noticed that he did not come around anymore, and his phone went unanswered. People assumed that he had gone on an extended vacation, was travelling the world, or working on a new business venture. After a while, they forgot about him. Eventually, his home and car were destroyed in a house fire. Richard's remains were not found - he had literally disappeared. Two years later, it was discovered that he suffered from a psychotic break, becoming anxious, withdrawn, and suspicious of everyone. He continued to live in New York for a time, and was eventually arrested for public drunkenness. When his identity was discovered, he began to receive the help that he needed and should have had three years sooner.
During her 14th year in the Army, Sharon was in her office at Fort Gordon, GA, when the base was locked down due to an active-shooter incident. Five soldiers were killed and thirteen were wounded before the shooter was killed. Among the dead was Sharon's close friend and classmate from West Point. Sharon experienced the expected strong emotions of anger and grief, and also began to show signs of high stress that impacted her performance at work and her relationships outside of work. Although she had planned to retire from the Army after 20 years, she chose to separate after 16 years, returning to Pennsylvania, where she had the support of her childhood friends and family. Today, she is a teacher in her local High School and serves as a JROTC advisor. With the help of her friends and family, although she still suffers from PTSD, she is generally enjoying her life after the Army.
We don't know what happened to start Richard's difficulties, but we know by talking with people that knew him that he did not have close friends or even casual friends in whom he confided. When he began to show signs of psychosis, nobody noticed, or if they did, nobody helped. Unlike Sharon's situation, Richard was truly alone.
In Civil Air Patrol, we often discuss the importance of being a Wingman. Look out for each other on mission, during training, or in class. Don't leave your battle buddy. Cadets generally do a good job of looking out for their fellow cadets while conducting operations. Being a wingman, however, is not just about making sure your fellow Airman has been drinking enough water or gotten enough rest. Being a wingman means to support each other - on duty or off.
Do you remember your fellow Airmen when you haven't seen them for a while? Do you pick up the phone and call someone to check on their well-being? Has anyone called you, or visited you?
Over the last year, we have been forcibly isolated from each other more often than not. Social isolation leads to stress, anxiety, depression. We all need to feel connected to others, and that connection must not be merely superficial or polite. I challenge each of us to take more of an interest in our fellow Airmen this year. I know there are friendships in 712, but there are also those among us who feel isolated, whether due to geography or some other reason. Take the time to care, and really become a Wingman. 712 has adopted the name "The Wolfpack." Prove it this year - no member of the pack gets left behind.
David Harrison, 1st Lt CAP
Commander Squadron 712