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I was with my dad when he passed away on April 21st. While I was watching my dad pass and experiencing this part of life it reminded me of my days in the USAF and the lessons learned and how it applies to the cycle of life and business.

I was in the USAF for over 13 years. The military is a mission- and team-based organization and you have an overall mission which determines everyone’s focus while the team means everyone bears all of their talents and skills to accomplish that mission. I spent a number of years in the USAF Aircraft Maintenance field working with F-4s, F-16s, F-15s and F-111s (and B-52s and KC-135s, but I can discuss the “heavies” another time) and I got to know a number of the fighter pilots and some of their training. It included knowing: weather, flight, basic physiology, mechanics and electronics, navigation, etc. Learning to fly in weather means avoiding bad weather if possible, it also means watching out as the weather changes which affects how you get to your destination and monitoring your aircraft resources, i.e. fuel, etc. to ensure you arrive safely.

Once a pilot graduates from flight training they get slotted for their first operational aircraft. They arrive at their duty station for training on their assigned aircraft and once they have their final check ride to ensure they’re qualified, they’re still not done. It’s on to getting combat flying experience flying 2v1 (2 versus 1) and 2v2 as a wingman.

A basic definition of a wingman is one who has less experience both with their assigned aircraft and in fighting techniques that flies with a flight lead, a more experienced pilot both in the specific aircraft and combat experience. Fighter pilots normally fly in flights of two, three or four aircraft and means there will always have a wingman. One of the maxims for a fighter pilot is: “Never leave your wingman.” Why? Because you never leave a fellow service member behind and you find some way of helping them in their time of need. During training exercises when a pilot is in trouble you’ll hear them say over the radio, “Knock it off, knock it off” to alert other pilots of an IFE (In Flight Emergency). When others in the training flight hear this they do a join up and proceed to “look over” the troubled pilot’s aircraft by flying around the troubled aircraft to determine the extent of the trouble. After the join up they’ll fly together until they land safely at an Air Force base or airport or if they eject the wingman circles around to ensure they are safe until more help can arrive to rescue the downed pilot.

In flight training, the chances of having an IFE are slim, but having to deal with changes in the weather happen regularly. Making adjustments to your aircraft’s heading and altitude to prevent being blown off course or missing your destination completely is a regular occurrence. As a pilot’s flight time increases a younger or less experienced pilot will be given the chance lead and to gain experience as a leader and be critiqued to improve their leadership capabilities. The same idea happens with a family of parents and children. As the kids prepare to move out of the house the parents hopefully trained them well enough to handle most of life’s situations. As the maxim goes, “Once a parent always a parent,” so in case of the kids getting in trouble the parental “wingman” will be there to help out and to guide the kids to “land safely” at the nearest airfield. At some point, these roles reverse and the kids take on the role of wingman and help parents as they get older and during times such as my dad’s health declining the last few months of his life. I was my dad’s wingman during his final hours here on earth just as he trained me for living growing up.

The same idea goes with your startup business. You need mentors, a Master Mind group, and others to help you with your business who have strengths that you need to make your business grow and to fly alongside your efforts to help guide you through troubled issues.

Now that both of my parents have passed away, I now need a new destination to head toward as the changes in the winds of life now have caused me to adjust my heading and altitude without my wingman of mom and dad. Just as losing a wingman in combat, you get a new one and mourn the loss of your cohort, so it is with life of family members.

So, I need some new wingmen to help guide me on in life. And, I need some junior wingmen to help train them in their mission of life. No different in life and business.

Who are your wingman? And who do you act as wingman to?

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