• Published
  • By By 1st Lt. David Liapis
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
33 - the number of Airmen who have taken their own lives as of April 12, this year.
66 - the number of Air Force moms and dads who have to bear the grief of losing their son or daughter to an untimely and preventable death this year. I have children of my own, and I can't even bear to think about what it would feel like to lose one of them. I can imagine the pain a parent feels is even greater when their child takes his or her own life.
Thousands - the number of family members, friends and coworkers whose lives are forever impacted by the choices of the 33. Because no one lives in complete isolation, suicides do not happen in a vacuum. All of us have various kinds of relationships that connect us to people all around us, so others will inevitably be affected by the loss of someone they know. Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, recently said in a letter to Air Force leadership that "Every one of our Airmen is precious to their families, their friends and to us."

4 - the number of Comprehensive Airman Fitness domains. An Airman's fitness isn't just determined by how fast they can run around a track. It's determined by how healthy they are physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.

"Our mission demands hard work and long hours; that will not likely change," said Col. Craig Wills, 39th Air Base Wing commander. "How we teach our Airmen to deal with it is what will make a difference. We know our Airmen are the ultimate combat resource, so it's imperative we help them develop healthy habits of spiritual, physical, mental and social fitness."

10 - the minimum number of immediate resources available to any Airman who might be thinking about hurting themselves or others. Here are the ten resources I came up with in a matter of a minute, although I'm sure there are even more out there: chaplains, mental health professionals, friends, family members, supervisors, commanders, first sergeants, doctors, Military Family Life Consultants, or the Military Crisis Line.

"Each of us has had serious challenges, losses, disappointments and struggles. It's part of life - everyone's life," said Welsh. "Every day thousands of Airmen conquer these challenges, usually with the help of a wingman, a family member, or some other trusted individual."

Preventing suicide takes both individual and team effort. Individually, we need to Step Up and admit if we need help. General Welsh encouraged leaders to help "stamp out" the stigma of seeking help, specifically for mental health care. It takes both courage and humility to admit we need a hand sometimes, but isn't swallowing our pride better than reaching a point where we feel we can't go on?

As a team, we need to Step In when we see a potential issue before it becomes a crisis. One important aspect of this is knowing each other well enough to be able to tell when something's not right. That may seem difficult to do when we're all so busy accomplishing the mission. However, since the mission doesn't get done without the people, we need to make the time to build relationships.

"Our front line supervisors and leaders are the key," said Wills. "Our belief is that if our supervisors know their troops, they'll be in a great position to spot abnormal behavior, and we know that if our people trust us, they're more likely to come forward when they have a problem."

Zero - the target suicide rate. Some may say that's an unrealistic goal. To those naysayers I ask, "Why would we settle for a goal of anything other than zero?" We're talking about people's lives, not statistics. It will be a challenge and it will take all of us doing our part to Step Up and Step In, but it's not impossible. Will you help us reach that goal?