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In hurricane's wake, cynic learns lesson

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- Prior to Hurricane Sandy, I thought the Air Force's wingman concept was just a gimmick that encouraged Airmen to poke their noses into my business, or worse, required me to poke my nose into someone else's business.

For goodness sake, I thought, can't an Airman just have a bad day without another Airman trying to help? Do these nose-pokers really care, or are they just doing their duty so when the next tragedy happens, no one will call them bad wingmen?

Personally, I doubted their motivation and sincerity.

You could have called me a cynic then, but not now. No, sir. I'm reformed. It just took a natural disaster of historic proportions for me to learn the lesson.

Thank you very much Hurricane Sandy.

Or more appropriately, my gratitude should be directed to the reservists of the 514th Air Mobility Wing.

Many of these Airmen live in and around the areas that were devastated by the hurricane, and while many were victims, more were wingmen and heroes.

When one senior noncommissioned officer's home was gutted by flood waters, he faced a recovery process that would require many hours of hard labor. But in the days that followed the storm, Airmen from his squadron started showing up at his door, ready to work. Several helped day after day, providing the labor and support to keep their fellow Airmen from becoming overwhelmed.

I was impressed by his selfless wingmen, but we're talking about a senior full-time employee of a reserve squadron. Of course, the wingmen show up to help him, right?

Yes but no. Wingmen aren't just for the full-time crowd in this wing.

When Airmen in another unit learned that one of their traditional reservists who was taking care of his family, including several young children and elderly parents, had lost power and had dwindling food supplies, they were quick to act. An on-the-spot fundraiser yielded $400, which was immediately used to purchase food and supplies for the grateful Airmen.

I thought I was starting to get this wingman concept thing. Airmen will help Airmen regardless of whether they serve in full-time positions or as traditional reservists. If you got a uniform, you got a wingman, right?

Yes but no. Having a uniform has nothing to do with it.

With her husband off fighting a war in a faraway land, one pregnant military spouse remained trapped in her apartment building as flood waters began to flood the lower floors. The wing's Airman and family readiness office continuously communicated with her and the spouses of other deployed Airmen before, during and after the hurricane. Her needs weren't neglected just because she was separated from her Airman husband.

OK, OK. I get it. I work for a unique wing with an abnormal supply of selflessness.

Yes but no. The selflessness is in high supply, but that's not unique to this wing.

Several days after the hurricane, a letter arrived containing a significant donation for the Airmen who were affected by the hurricane. It came from Airmen from another wing in another part of the country. They saw the need to help fellow Airmen without needing to know the names or see the faces of those who would benefit from their generosity.

Well, I've learned my lesson. There's many good wingmen wearing Air Force blue and they are willing to help full-time Airmen, part-time Airmen, the spouses of Airmen, Airmen they know well and Airmen they don't know at all.

No longer will I look so skeptically upon the nose-pokers known as wingmen.

And maybe, when the situation calls for it, I'll even try to poke my nose.

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