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3 new members inducted into Wingman Program in honor of tremendous support

Gary Laughlin, an independent auditor and consultant in Columbus, Miss., poses for a photo. Laughlin was inducted into the Columbus Air Force Base Wingman Program in 2020 as Columbus AFB Wingman #34. (Courtesy photo)

Gary Laughlin, an independent auditor and consultant in Columbus, Miss., poses for a photo. Laughlin was inducted into the Columbus Air Force Base Wingman Program in 2020 as Columbus AFB Wingman #34. (Courtesy photo)

Barbara Bigelow, Main St. director in Columbus, Miss., poses for a photo. Bigelow was inducted into the Columbus Air Force Base Wingman Program in 2020 as Columbus AFB Wingman #35. (Courtesy photo)

Barbara Bigelow, Main St. director in Columbus, Miss., poses for a photo. Bigelow was inducted into the Columbus Air Force Base Wingman Program in 2020 as Columbus AFB Wingman #35. (Courtesy photo)

Carole Simmons, Lost Pizza Co. general manager in Columbus, Miss., poses for a photo. Simmons was inducted into the Columbus Air Force Base Wingman Program in 2020 as Columbus AFB Wingman #36. (Courtesy photo)

Carole Simmons, Lost Pizza Co. general manager in Columbus, Miss., poses for a photo. Simmons was inducted into the Columbus Air Force Base Wingman Program in 2020 as Columbus AFB Wingman #36. (Courtesy photo)

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Col. Samantha Weeks, 14th Flying Training Wing commander, inducted three community members from Columbus, Mississippi, into the Columbus Air Force Base Wingman Program before relinquishing command on May 18.

Founded in November of 1993 by retired Gen. Robert Foglesong, former 14th FTW commander, the Wingman Program is intended to highlight members of the local community for their outstanding support during the commander’s tenure at Columbus AFB. Currently, 33 community leaders have been the recipient of this award bringing the total to 36.

“This is revered program that establishes a prominent connection to our community and I am happy to continue that legacy,” Weeks said. “That is why it gives me great pleasure as one of my last acts as the 14th Flying Training Wing Commander to award these three community leaders with this prestigious award.”

The newly inducted wingmen are as follows:

• Gary Laughlin, an independent auditor and consultant
• Barbara Bigelow, Columbus Main St. director
• Carole Simmons, Lost Pizza Co. general manager

In the Air Force, a wingman is defined as the pilot flying closely outside and behind the wing of the leading aircraft in a flight formation in order to provide protective support. In other words, a wingman is the term for an Airman who watches out for another Airman.

Columbus AFB took the idea of being a wingman and adapted it to what is known as the Wingman Award. The award is given to outstanding members of the community who have made exceptional contributions to Columbus AFB and its Airmen.

As well as receiving the award, a photo of the wingman is hung on a wall at the Columbus AFB Club to honor past and present wingmen.

“I’ve looked at that wall in the club,” Laughlin said. “I’ve looked at the pictures of the people I admire most in this world and I’m not sure if I deserve to be up there. I’m extremely humbled and honored.”

The members have worked tirelessly to enhance the wellbeing of the base community, as well as to increase the effectiveness of the overall mission of the 14th FTW.

“I am deeply honored to be selected as one of Col. Weeks’ Columbus Air Force Base wingmen and to have my name included in this prestigious program,” Bigelow said. “Just to be considered is incredible but to be chosen is more than I could ever have expected. I have enjoyed being an active part of Columbus Air Force Base for more than 17 years and to serve as a wingman is unbelievable.”

All recipients said they are greatly appreciative upon receiving the title of “Columbus AFB Wingman.”

“I’m not from this area and I’m not too familiar with the Air Force, but what I have seen is how the program is a great asset for the community,” Simmons said. “It’s very humbling to be a wingman to Columbus AFB and be a part of that.”

Columbus AFB will continue to honor wingmen who not only lead in their own communities, but embody service and commitment to its Airmen