Be like my buddy Tony, a great wingman

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- A recent order from General Norton A. Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force with concurrence from Lieutenant General Harry M. Wyatt III, Director of the Air National Guard, directs a half-day stand down in order to focus our attention on Suicide Prevention, enhance personal motor vehicle safety and to improve our wingman skills. The reason for this stand down is the dramatic rise throughout the Air Force in deaths from suicides and car accidents. We have a responsibility to look out for and protect each other from every possible threat, including those times when we become a threat to ourselves.

The Bible supports the idea of the "wingman." In the first book of the Bible, a murderous brother asks, "Am I my brother's keeper?" And the response from God points to the obvious answer, "Yes!" In the New Testament, a very upstanding person once asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" To which Jesus responded with a story about a not-so-upstanding person who nevertheless knew enough common decency that he didn't have to ask that question. The Good Samaritan just took care of the person in need that was right in front of him. Who is that person right in front of you today?

The concept of the "wingman" reminds me of the reliable old "Buddy System." I was first introduced to the "Buddy System" when I was a child attending a summer Bible camp on a lake in central Wisconsin. I was unhappy at first to be "stuck" with Tony as my buddy. Tony was a nerdy kid with buck teeth and red hair that stuck out all over. Every time the lifeguard blew that whistle I had to go looking for Tony and he for me. We soon found that it was best just to keep the other within sight. Then one day I suddenly became very fatigued while swimming in the deep water. The raft seemed impossibly far away. The whistle blew. In a panic I began to grope about. Thank God for my buddy Tony. He spotted me, and without fanfare grabbed my arm and gave me a little shove toward the raft - just enough to get me there. Tony didn't look so nerdy to me after that. In fact, he still seems pretty cool in my memory.

That's what buddies and wingmen do. They just reach out and do whatever is necessary to save a life, which often is surprisingly little. They don't have to make a big showy deal out of being helpful. They just reach out a hand and provide a shove or some encouragement in the right direction. Maybe it's asking the hard question, "Are you thinking about hurting yourself?" Or maybe it's just sitting and listening. Maybe it's sitting with their wingman while he or she works through the worst situation they've ever faced. Maybe it's grabbing that buddy by the arm and getting him to a chaplain or mental health professional. Whatever it is, it's not hard to be a good buddy or a good wingman. It just takes willingness and some situational awareness. If an 8-year boy old named Tony could figure out, I bet you and I can, too! Thanks for being a great Wingman.