JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD. – As of this month, the Air Force has lost 79 Airmen to suicide, 11 of those Airmen were members of the Reserve. Air Force leaders are asking units to take a day to stand down to bring awareness to the serious issue of suicide in today’s Air Force. This directive comes right before the month of September, which is National Suicide Awareness Month.
All Reservists are required to meet once a month for Unit Training Assembly. While not exposed to the everyday military lifestyle of their active duty counterparts, Reservists are still faced with stressors in their everyday lives that can unfortunately lead to suicide. It is important to take care of oneself, subordinates and peers.
“Suicide awareness and prevention is essential in today’s Air Force,” said Julie Russell, Director of Psychological Health. “It continues to be the leading cause of death with the Air Force every day. Early intervention is key.”
Wing leadership encourages leaders to get out and get to know their Airmen. In the Air Force, Airmen may be fearful of speaking up and getting help. Trust can play a big factor in an Airman asking for help. Leaders should make an effort to ensure they are familiar their Airmen so if the time comes, they can provide support.
“We need our leaders to step and up and really get to know our Airmen,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jose Velez, 459th Air Refueling Wing Command Chief. “Get out and visit your folks. Sit down and talk with them and if you see something isn’t quite right, take that extra step and ask them about their life. You never know what someone is going through. You could possibly be saving a life.”
It is important to be aware of possible signs on suicide. While Reservists only meet once a month (and it may be hard to really get to know one’s peers in such a short time frame,) it is still important to recognize basic signs. Some signs can include:
-Distancing oneself from others (not participating in group activities)
-No energy/depressed state
-Signs of violence/abuse
-Verbal admissions to hurting oneself or others
-Coming in early/staying late
These are just a few signs that can indicate something may be wrong with an individual.
“We ask that you look out for possible indicators,” Julie said. “It’s easy to get caught up in our short drill weekend. Everyone is trying to get in and get out. Just taking a minute to say, ‘hey, how are you?’ can be the push someone might need to open up.”
Airmen are always encouraged to seek help, whether it be talking to your supervisor, first sergeant. or someone trustworthy. As military members, everyone is a mandated reporter and required to report individuals who admit thoughts of suicide to their chain of command.
“I advise everyone to adhere to the ACE method: Ask, Care, Escort,” Julie said. “In order to ask you must first care. Care about your wingman. Take the time out to ask and care.”
Next month, the wing plans to hold a commander’s call with Air Force Reserve Command commander, Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee, where he is slated to address the rising issue of suicide in the Air Force. The wing is scheduled to have a stand down day in October where units will participate in activities and team building exercises.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, talk to your chain of command or reach out to any of these agencies who are standing by to help:
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1800-273-TALK
Julie Russell: 202-578-0862
Military One Source: https://www.militaryonesource.mil/
Emergency Services: 911