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Feature - Wingman bound to do his best for others

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Editor's note: this feature first appeared in the Colorado National Guard magazine High Ground.

In the Air Force, we're taught to live by a Wingman standard. Looking out for one another begins the minute we join the military and is first taught in basic training, when we support each other in everything, from the smallest details on our uniforms to learning Air Force ways. It's engrained in our everyday mission and values.

So when one of our fellow Colorado Air National Guardsmen stops to help out a person in need, it would seem like a perfectly natural thing to do. You'd also likely expect that things would turn out for the best when someone takes the time to help an individual in need, but that's not exactly how it went for one noncommissioned officer on his way to work one morning.

Senior Master Sgt. Doug Graham, 140th Wing base education and training manager, was on his way to work Aug. 7 when he noticed a situation he thought warranted his assistance.

"I was only about a half a block from my house when I noticed a man and a woman, and it appeared as though the man had thrown the woman to the ground," said Graham. "When I asked if they were alright, the man answered that she was just drunk. However, when I went to ask the woman if she was ok, the guy just hit me -- in the face."

From then things just got worse. "My memory is kind of vague surrounding the incident, but I remember getting hit in the face several times and being kicked while I was on the ground. After that, I only recall talking with the police and getting put into the ambulance."

After the attack, the assailant stole Graham's keys as well as his GPS device. Graham added that both he and police were concerned about the suspect figuring out (from the GPS) where Graham lives, especially because the suspect also had Graham's house and car keys. Graham now shares this lesson: Find a way to protect the personal information stored on your GPS devices.

While in the hospital after the incident, Officer Patrick Benda from the Aurora Police Department told Graham that authorities had found and arrested the suspect and that felony charges would be pressed.

Looking back at what he might have done differently, Graham says, "I probably would have made a phone call to the authorities prior to engaging the couple to at least let them know what was going on and get someone else involved other than me. You don't want to get people in trouble by immediately jumping to unnecessary and unfounded conclusions, but in this case, the woman was on the ground and the ambulance and or police should have probably already been there anyway."

A similar incident happened in Milwaukee, Wis., Aug. 17. Mayor Tom Barrett intervened to protect a grandmother and 1-year-old from an assailant. Barnett was beaten with a pipe and garnered a fractured hand as he tried to call 911.

"We don't want to discourage anyone from helping a fellow citizen," said Detective Bob Friel, public information officer for the Aurora Police Department. "They should use their best judgment and size up the situation before engaging, but calling 911 first and describing the situation is usually a safe bet. You may not get that chance if you engage first."

"Also, if nothing else, be a good witness for the police and give as much detail as possible about the scene - down to tattoos, accents, license plates, direction of travel, etcetera - so they can take the appropriate actions if necessary," said Friel.

As to why he did it, Graham says he was standing with a group of Air National Guard members recently who asked him the same question.

"I can't imagine any one of the people that were standing with me not doing it. That's just the way we are. I think there's just a Wingman attitude in the Guard, and if you can help someone then you're bound to do your best to try. That's something that I believe in and I believe is prevalent throughout the Guard."
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