The military has a principle or a way of behaving that may not make sense to everyone. The Wingman code of conduct means that no military member is left behind. No matter how long time has passed, every effort is made to bring the military member home alive or if that is not the case, to bring them home to American soil with dignity and honor. That same concept is utilized day to day in that military and civilian employees are supposed to be looking out for each other making sure that people do not go down a path of no return or behave in inappropriate manners. Sadly, looking at certain statistics such as the number one homeless population being veterans and the 22 veteran lives lost every day is a wake up call that we as a nation should all heed because it shows how we are failing as Wingmen.
In life, we all get good at knowing how to answer the question, “How are you?” Fine. Just fine, thank you. Five days after my husband was buried, I returned to work. I knew that people expected a certain answer and weren’t comfortable with the shattered true response. I parroted the expected. Therein lies the problem. In military families, we lose our 911 friends. 911 friends are the friends that know a person almost as well as the person knows themselves. They are the friends that call a person on changed behaviors or bad decisions. While it isn’t intentional, the longer a person is a military member or family member of a military person, the more those 911 friendships erode and go away.
In the military world, we are all quite good at connecting with people right away. Throw me into a busy room, and before the hour is over, I will have a new friendly acquaintance. We are too good at hellos and goodbyes, however, thus those friends only get in so far. Consider for a minute that I am on the 15th move since I was 20. I have friends from all over the world and if I ran into any of them, I would immediately connect at the same level as when one of us left to move. Yet, few understand me knowing that I write when I have dealt with something versus writing when something is bothering me. The person that knows me well, knows to ask about what I am not writing about. The less I write, the more conflicted I am. When I start losing weight, that is another sign that stress is catching me, but unless a person had known me for a long time, they would not know to look for those behaviors.
In the military world, the higher in rank and the longer a person is in the military, the more the warrior ethos kicks in. In other words, the longer a person serves or is a family member of one that serves, the less likely they are to seek help. There is the thought of having to set the example and to be strong for those lower in rank or there is the fear of job repercussions especially in certain job positions. In a world where a military member is stacked and racked against one’s peers for promotion, who is more likely to get the endorsement? The person who is taking time for mental health appointments or one who looks like they have it all together whether they do or do not?
Today I broke. I cried realizing how much I am going to miss this place. I have never cried over leaving a base, but this one is different. I know it is time for me to find a place to call home and to find 911 friends. It is time for me plan for a retirement that is coming faster than I want it to come. It is difficult to leave Hanscom, but if I do not do it now, I do not know how I will bear it at 60. If I don’t do it now, I will retire and have to leave the base, the job, and MA (too expensive and not my longterm home). I was offered many jobs in the past two years, but only one of them felt right on every level even when the reason I initially applied went away. I cried because I am leaving the place I learned to be happy, a place I fit, and I place I found my voice. I am leaving so many people, but most of these people are nomads like me.
If it is this hard for me, consider this. It is this hard for every career military family. The active duty military member knows exactly who they are and where they fit when they walk in the door. The day they retire everything changes. They may walk in the same doors a day later, but the customs, courtesies, and practices are different for a civilian. The military member may or may not be able to get a job that corresponds with their military service. They may decide to go back to a home state that they hadn’t lived in for 20 years not realizing that the 911 friends that they had 20 years previously have routines and lives that no longer include them. Marriages often implode under the pressures and health often starts to unravel at this age. All of a sudden behaviors that were never an option become an option. it is for this exact reason that I am willing to risk it all for this move to a place I have never lived, visited, and to a place where I only know my brother and his family who will not be there forever. I am in the words of Rudyard Kipling, risking it all on one turn of pitch and toss. I am all in, but if I lose, I will quietly gather myself and start over again.
The Wingman concept? This is where my voice might make a difference. Being a wingman is about more than words. It is showing up, establishing connections that are real, growing, and vulnerable. Being a wingman takes time…time that I will have in MO. I am going to be staying, thus it is time to work on establishing that mutual wingman friendship. It is in that knowledge that I know action and faith in myself is required. Why is it all so difficult and scary? Is it too late? I am lucky that I get the opportunity to figure it out while I am still working and while I am active, but make no mistake, I am going to need a wingman or two or three.

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