A wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, parades and other tributes mark Veteran’s Day, the day set aside each year on Nov. 11 to honor and thank all who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.
On Nov. 15, Dunwoody resident Rob “Waldo” Waldman, a combat veteran himself, will inaugurate a program he hopes will recognize and benefit soldiers, veterans and their families year-round. Waldman and his identical twin brother, Dave, of Charlotte, will host the first annual Ultimate Wingman Banquet honoring three service members stationed in, or a resident of, Georgia who have served their country above and beyond the call of duty.
A portion of the proceeds will go to Hire Heroes USA, an Alpharetta-based nonprofit dedicated to creating job opportunities for U.S. military veterans and their spouses; and each honored service member will designate a nonprofit that supports fellow service members to receive a charitable contribution.
According to information on the event website, the term “wingman” originated in military aviation and refers to the pilot who supports another in a potentially dangerous flying environment. It has expanded beyond aviation and now symbolizes someone who goes above and beyond in upholding the core values of courage, teamwork, trust and service.
Waldman earned his wingman status as a decorated combat fighter pilot with more than 65 missions in Iraq and Serbia. A 1990 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, Waldman has also been a pilot instructor and a pilot instructor trainer. He volunteered for a one-year tour of duty in Korea, monitoring the border between the North and South.
The son of an airplane mechanic, Waldman was fascinated with flying from an early age. “I jumped onto that tarmac and smelled the jet fuel and I was hooked,” he said. It was an unlikely career choice for someone who was afraid of heights and claustrophobic.
“My passion was greater than my fears,” Waldman said.
He discovered how to conquer the panic that overcame him when flying in certain situations, such as at night or in bad weather when he couldn’t see the ground, or long distances. “I love the thrill of flying, the maneuvering tactics,” he said. “I would focus on that. When engaged and loving the moment, the noise of exhilaration drowns out the noise of fear.”
Waldman added, “You have to be able to have others to go to for help.” He states on his website: “The key to building a culture of trust lies with your wingmen – the men and women in your life who help you to overcome obstacles, adapt to change and achieve success. In business and life, you should never fly solo.”
In 2000, Waldman decided to leave the active military and earn an MBA. He worked in sales for a tech firm until it closed after 9/11, when he relocated to metro Atlanta. He consulted on mergers and acquisitions, and while dealing with corporations he shared stories about his military career and overcoming his fears. In 2004, he became a full-time motivational speaker.
Waldman put his message of overcoming obstacles with the help of others into a book, “Never Fly Solo,” in 2010, donating the profits to veterans’ help groups. After the book was published, Waldman created a foundation to create awareness of veterans’ deeds and needs, partnering with his lifelong wingman, his twin brother.
The Nov. 15 Ultimate Wingman banquet, sponsored by Verizon, is the foundation’s first event. The honorees list is still being finalized, based on nominations received through October.
Waldman, 44, his wife and young son moved to Dunwoody in 2011. “It’s my favorite part of Atlanta. I like the feel of the community — the trees, the older homes, the sense of community,” he said.
The Ultimate Wingman Banquet will be held Thursday, Nov. 15, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta, Ga., 30339. Tickets are $100, including dinner and entertainment; active military/Reserve/ Guard and their spouses, $65 per person. For complete information, visit theultimatewingman.com. For more information about Lt. Col. Rob “Waldo” Waldman, visit yourwingman.com. For information about Hire Heroes USA, visit hireheroesusa.org.
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