View Full Version : Fraternal order of 'Wingmen' throws all-day concert bash

03-04-07, 07:16 AM
Fraternal order of 'Wingmen' throws all-day concert bash
Published Friday, March 2, 2007

"Have you ever seen the movie 'Old School'?" Michael Kelley asks when the topic of the origin of his fraternity, the Ancient Order of Wingmen, comes up. "It's kind of the same premise. Also, if you've ever heard the term 'wingman' used in social situations -- a guy who is there for his buddy, no matter what, to back him up no matter what the situation might be."

Kelley is the national commandant for the group, also known as Alpha Omicron Omega, a local social co-ed fraternity that was started by three former Marines. The origins of the ancient and mystical-sounding group are neither ancient nor mystical, having its beginning not in Greece but in a Coors Light commercial.

"It started as kind of a running joke between two friends of mine and I," Kelley said. "Then we had a few people come up and say, 'Hey, I heard of the idea and I want to pledge' -- just complete, absolute strangers. So I filed the paperwork with the secretary of state and the IRS and we got chartered and we've just been building our membership up since then."

The group was founded March 9, 2006, by Kelley, 25, a local bartender; Matt Barkalow, 24, a marketing specialist; and Eddie Polillo, 27, an aviation ordinance electrician. The trio had eight members in their first pledge class. The group has since grown to 50 members, spread out across the globe.

On Saturday, the Wingmen will throw the first Omegafest, an all-day concert featuring eight bands, including popular Lowcountry acts like Souls Harbor, Habitual Offender, The Fresh Hots and Feedback. The concert will be held at the Hwy. 21 Drive-In from noon to 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 and the proceeds will benefit the American Red Cross Palmetto Chapter.
Volunteerism has been a tenant of the Wingmen since its inception. Members are expected to contribute a minimum of 30 hours a year to community service and the group participates in the Adopt-A-Highway program, sponsoring the stretch from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort to the Chick-fil-A.

It was in the spirit of this giving back that Alpha Omicron Omega came up with the idea of the Omegafest.

"We were on our way back from a concert in Hilton Head, a couple of frat brothers," Kelley said. "We talked about how there weren't any huge shows, or anything geared toward the youth in the area. We're all huge fans of concerts; it's what we've done in the past year and a half, go to different shows in the area. We decided we wanted to throw our own."

The group meets informally at Rosie O'Grady's Irish Pub almost every night. They have formal meetings once a month where business, like new pledges, is discussed. Anyone interested in the group can ask for an application. The application -- which includes an essay portion that asks questions like why you want to join the group and what you think you can give back to the group -- is then reviewed by the Wingmen for admission. Accepted applicants are placed into a pledge class and are put through a hush, hush, super-secret initiation ritual.

But erase visions of hooded figures with paddles in hand and torture-chamber hazing awaiting the scared and scarred pledges. The Wingmen, in fact, have a strict no-hazing policy. Kelley is firm about this. In his words, such acts would "not foster the spirit of brotherhood we're looking for."

"Most of the time the stereotype is what you see in movies -- where everything is all dark and everyone is in robes and there is hazing, all kinds of crazy stuff," said Barkalow, who now lives in Virginia. "I'd consider it more of an organization of friends than a fraternity."

Pledges are given nicknames, a la the 1986 movie "Top Gun," which helped popularize the idea of a wingman. Kelley is known as "D'Artagnan," literary hero of "The Three Musketeers"; Barkalow is "Joker," like the character from "Full Metal Jacket"; Polillo is called "Godfather."

Most of the Wingmen live in Beaufort, but thanks to the military and members like Barkalow, it is growing. The group has a member in Okinawa, Japan, one in Geneva, Switzerland, one in Nebraska, several in Virginia and several in Florida. It also has a presence on MySpace.com, which is allowing it to grow even more.

In Beaufort, among the regulars in the nightlife scene, the Greek letters of Alpha Omicron Omega -- adorned on shirts -- are becoming familiar sites.

"For the most part, people know who we are," Polillo, the director of operations, said. "I usually DJ on the weekends at Rosie O'Grady's and most of the people there know. If I meet anyone new they usually ask about it and I tell them. They're usually like, 'Oh, that's cool. I want to be a part of that.'<2009>"

The expansion of the group -- not to mention the extracurricular activities like the upcoming Omegafest -- has been taxing on the founding members. Kelley, the group's leader, equates the paperwork associated with running a group like this to working another full-time job. Although no one is complaining.

"We're all thankful for it," Barkalow said. "But we weren't planning on having anything this big. It's gratifying, though, knowing I was a of starting something that this many people are interested in."

Although the three founding members are ex-Marines, and a good portion of the membership has military backgrounds, that is not a prerequisite for pledges. The ages of the members range from 18 to 45, with women welcome to apply. The only requirements are that you be 18 years of age and show, in Kelley's words, "good moral character."

The good moral character part is what Barkalow emphasizes to outsiders. He doesn't like when people get the wrong idea about his brothers.

"There is a lot of misconceptions, even around Beaufort, about what the group is," he said. If anyone questioned the intentions of Barkalow and his Ancient Order of Wingmen, he knows just what he'd say:

"I'd ask them how many people they knew that at the drop of a hat would come and help them if they had a flat tire or if their car broke down or if they had to be bailed out for something; if they were short on a payment," he said. "Because I could probably call up any one of the Wingmen and they'd be there for me."