Where was my Wingman?

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- In my six-and-a-half year journey into the blue, I've become a firm believer in the concept of the Air Force family. In fact, I wrote a commentary about this very topic during my first stint in Air Combat Command entitled "Air Force family not just a catchphrase."

As I approach almost a year in my second stint in ACC, I experienced two separate scenarios within a 24-hour stretch that prompted me to reiterate the importance of maintaining that family bond we all share as Airmen.

It was my first day back to work following convalescent leave and I was on crutches. As anyone who has ever been on crutches can empathize, you know this limits your ability to carry items.

As I hobble into the restaurant and place my order, I scan the immediate area and I notice it's fairly busy during the lunch hour. Amidst the hustle and bustle, I see my fellow brothers in blue, albeit in ABUs since it's a Wednesday. I also notice civilian employees and some of our joint service brethren. In the back of my mind, I'm fairly confident that someone will showcase kindness in my direction.

As I finish placing my order, I begin the wait - you know, the one that makes time slow to a crawl as you wait for your order number to be called. Within a few minutes, it was over and my tray was sitting in front of me. Only there was one problem. I lacked the means to move it easily.

I manage to get my tray over to the drink dispensers. It was only five feet, but it felt like five miles. I shuffle alongside the metal slab and fill up my drink as I feel the piercing eyes of the restaurant patrons watching me struggle to accomplish an ordinarily simple task. At this moment, I realize the people staring holes through me decided to take a rain-check on chivalry.

A sense of frustration starts to build as I peer around the restaurant looking for straws. Within two feet of me stands a fellow senior airman who, like the rest of the crowd, continues to observe the situation. As I slowly slide my tray, my beverage spills, forming a lake of soda surrounding an island of burger and fries.

I look up and turn my head toward the crowd. My disbelief at how the situation unfolded brings me to a boiling point.

"Really? A whole restaurant full of people and not one person offers to help the guy on crutches? This is ridiculous!"

To add insult to injury, the senior airman looks at my plight and asks after the fact, "What do you need help with?" As I look down at the mess a restaurant employee will inevitably have to clean up, he says, "I can't help you there."

A day later, I stood in line at an eatery in the food court inside the Base Exchange waiting for my food to be prepared. I wondered if I would experience a similar fate.

When the worker behind the counter sat the tray in front of me, he asked if I needed any help without hesitation. Before I could say yes, another patron and his spouse who had ordered food before me offered assistance. As he walked alongside me, he asked where I would like to sit and I pointed out a table not too far from where we stood.

As I went to grab my cup and make an attempt to venture toward the drink dispensers, his spouse took the cup and asked me what I would like to drink. When she brought the drink back to me, I made sure to say thanks. I sat there and enjoyed my meal without incident, thinking about the prior day and how different it would have been if these two individuals or any other like-minded individual had been there.

As I type this commentary and reflect on these events, I know my faith in the Air Force family hasn't been diminished. I've been blessed by those willing to help in times of need and I've been proud to be there for those who needed it.

I wonder though, what if a freshly-minted Airman straight out of technical training had experienced the first scenario instead of the second? Would they believe they had a reliable Air Force family they could count on if they needed a hand, even if they didn't ask for the help?

The point I'm trying to make is simple. Being a member of the Air Force family shouldn't be an ideal you can haphazardly flip on and off like a light switch. It is a concept that should be embraced at all times, much like our core values. Integrity, service and excellence are all non-negotiable.

The Air Force family, the Wingman concept - call it what you will. The fact remains it is a concept that should be rooted deep within all of us. It's even written into our Airman's Creed that we will never leave another Airman behind. I firmly believe it is as applicable in a restaurant at a drink dispenser as it is on the battlefield. Whether our brothers in arms are stranded beside a broken-down humvee in a deployed environment or whether they are standing beside an overheated vehicle on I-10, we should all exhibit the willingness to aid them.