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Flight lead: the right decision

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- When members of our team set out to have a good time, we have all been encouraged to be good wingmen and take care of each other. The wingman concept has become part of our culture and is certainly helping us look out for our teammates.

Another concept you have heard about since arriving here at Osan is the flight lead concept. The flight lead program builds on the wingman program by adding the essential element of leadership to our wingman program. The flight lead concept derives from our fighting heritage, mirroring the way we have employed flights of fighter and attack aircraft since the earliest days of our Air Force.

The success of the flight lead program depends on participants remembering that we are warriors and have a professional responsibility to look out for each other. As warriors, we're expected to take the lead when required to execute the mission, whether that mission is attacking targets, defending our foxhole, or having a good time off duty.

The flight lead doesn't have to be the most senior Airman in the group by age or rank. But the flight lead does have to understand his or her leadership role: to professionally, in the manner of a warrior, achieve the mission objectives. This is especially true if that objective is to have a good time while adhering to the high standards expected of an Airman and American ambassador in Korea.

Any group of Airman should know who is filling the role of flight lead for the evening. We don't fly our missions single ship, so every group, whether two or twenty, needs to understand who has the lead. The lead will have the final say when it comes to mission execution, and all members agree that when the flight lead decides it is time to move to another place, call it a night or that someone has had enough, the decision is final.

That's called the flight lead/wingman contract. We can "debrief" the fight the next day, but at the moment of execution, the flight lead makes the call. Making the tough call takes courage, and that kind of courage forms the essence of leadership.

The flight lead program is not babysitting and it's not setting up a command relationship. It's all about making sure that someone is stepping out as a leader to ensure the welfare of the group while everyone is having a good time.

The lead is not prohibited from drinking (unless he or she is driving). However, flight leads must be smart enough to limit his own drinking so he can make sound decisions based on the current situation. he accepts his limits freely as a leader.

Flexibility has long been held to be the key to air and space power employment, and there's no difference when it comes to off-duty enjoyment. Flight leads maintain the flexibility to adjust to the flight's desires, capitalizing on opportunities as they arise and avoiding threats. All the while he remembers his role as a leader to ensure his Airmen succeed at the "mission" while getting everyone home safely. Here in Korea, that means, for example, knowing any restrictions, helping fellow Airmen practice 0-0-1-3(zero underage drinking, zero DUIs, no more than one drink per hour, no more than three drinks per night) and getting inside the gate before curfew.

Our mission to provide airpower in defense of the Republic of Korea means that we need to be able to react at a moment's notice and need focused as both Airmen and warriors at all times, day or night. If we have to fight tonight, all Airmen will be recalled immediately to their duty locations so the preparations for defending the base, accepting follow-on forces and taking the fight to the aggressor can begin. Will you be ready?

Will your fellow Airmen have to pickup your load until you "sleep off" your most recent night at the club or on the town? Is that the way you want your reputation as a warrior to be determined?

Our wingman and flight lead concepts help us all enjoy our off-duty activities to the fullest, while balancing the need to be ready to fight tonight. Step up to leadership, step up to being a flight lead!

(Editor's note: Compiled with information provided by Lt. Col. Jack Stokes and Maj. Vaughn Pyper, 25th Fighter Squadron.)