INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --
It is the shortest question in the English language, but evokes the widest range of answers.
Perhaps the most perplexing enigma about the question “why” is this: while it is one of the most asked questions, it is also very often not answered.
This is the somber concept Master Sgt. Teve Molioo, along with his former unit, wrestled with one fateful morning.
Molioo, a flight chief at the time, was awakened by a phone call from a colleague who informed him one of his Airmen may be in danger.
He immediately jumped into his car and dashed to a field near the barracks where the colleague told him to go.
“Upon my arrival to the field, I was met by one of my noncommissioned officers who was in shock--distraught by what he was seeing,” said Molioo. “He looked at me and said, ‘Sorry for your loss.’ Initially I was confused by this statement.”
That was when Molioo discovered his Airman had committed suicide. Overcome with emotion, the flight chief attempted to barge into the incident scene only to be halted by the local authorities.
Molioo’s superintendent arrived shortly after, passing by while doing his morning run.
“As I notified him of what happened, he looked over at the scene,” Molioo recalled. “We immediately embraced each other, both in shock and disbelief while trying to make sense of our new reality. A few minutes later, our commander arrived and directed us to head to the squadron where the trauma response team was on standby.”
While the tragedy of that morning rocked Molioo and his squadron, the morbid reality for the flight chief was that it was not his first time dealing with suicides. In fact, Molioo had already lost two comrades to suicide years before.
“I could not believe that this was happening again,” he recalled. “Although, dealing with this kind of traumatic event was not new, it didn’t make it any easier. That day felt like I was standing in a crowded room full of chaos, coupled with an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and sadness.”
News of the death scattered like a shockwave. Whether it was at work, at home, during a party or even a smoke break, members of the community couldn’t help but talk about the incident and ask “why.”
“Airmen in his work section were looking for reasons,” Molioo said. “The unit struggled to put together the pieces, while still functioning and operating to maintain its critical mission. For weeks, helping agencies were scattered across the organization to ensure members had an opportunity to mourn the loss of a friend, brother and colleague.”
Senior Airman Kenterrious Walls, 728th Air Mobility Squadron aircraft services representative, said he knew the Airman who committed suicide and was stunned by the news. He remembered trying to comfort those who were close to the Airman.
“I was trying to be there for the Airman’s close friends and making sure they were okay,” Walls said. “It sucks that someone takes their own life, feeling like nobody can help them. It makes me reflect on how I act toward my co-workers, and I make sure they can trust me with anything.”
It began to sink in for many people that the answer to the question “why” may have descended into the grave.
Molioo looked for ways to cope as the weeks and months passed. He went to the gym often and also reached out to his family and friends. Molioo also credited his faith as the source of much of his hope… and his reason to continue pushing forward in the midst of agony.
He now serves as the first sergeant for the 39th Communications Squadron at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. He had already served as an additional-duty first sergeant before at one of his previous bases, and loved the job so much he chose to pursue it as a primary duty.
Molioo expressed his desire to help people, along with the teachings of his elders, as the motivation for him to take on this role.
“I come from very humble beginnings,” he said. “My grandmother taught me that hard work and humility will go a long way. That, coupled with my faith, brought me where I am today. And it continues to drive me to where I am going.”
When Molioo first joined the Air Force and learned about the core value of Service Before Self, he remembered the lessons his grandmother taught him.
“I was raised by my grandmother who was the matriarch of our family,” he said. “She instilled in me at a very young age what humility and selfless service was all about. As I began my Air Force career, I served with some amazing first sergeants who all had a servant leadership mentality. I chose to serve in this capacity because it was another platform that allowed me to serve not just those that were in my specialty, but rather every Airman in this amazing organization.”
As a first sergeant, Molioo describes his duty as “providing the commander with the pulse of the health and welfare of the unit.” He also advises the commander on matters of good order and discipline. Molioo said the nature of his responsibility requires him to remain in-tune to the climate of not just his squadron, but the rest of the installation.
Molioo is also responsible for providing support to Airmen in times of crisis, even when it involves death.
The first sergeant mentioned “why” as one of the most asked questions after tragedies such as suicides. He added that the very same question can also help save people from such a terrible fate. He thinks of things or people which matter to him, and uses them as his reason why he should press on through life.
One of the keys to overcoming adversity is remembering everything that matters to an individual the most, Molioo explained.
“We often lose sight of the things that matter in our lives,” he said. “Sometimes a subtle reminder is what we need to make us aware of the things which matter to us the most. If we can focus on the things which matter to us the most, it reinstates our ‘why,’ which is our purpose in life.”
Molioo encouraged everyone to find their own “why,” and emphasized the fact that no situation, however terrible it may be, lasts forever.
“The dark places that we may find ourselves in are never permanent,” he said. “To me, suicide is a permanent fix to a temporary problem. If you don’t understand what your self-worth is, not just to the mission but also to your loved ones, it’s hard to see past that darkness.
“Sometimes the Air Force is just not for everybody, but there is still a place for you somewhere in this world,” Molioo added.
The first sergeant also expressed how important it is for people to be kind to one another and make sure they are doing well. He added that the advent of technology and social media, while reaping many benefits, has also produced drawbacks when it comes to human interaction.
Molioo mentioned there is no substitute for meeting a friend face-to-face, saying the face tells stories which the lips try to hide.
“The non-verbals say everything,” he said. “When humanity calls, we have to respond. And the way we respond is not merely through our technological means, but through face-to-face interaction which is what we really need. To me, those are the things that should go viral: positivity, humanity and decency. When we continue to magnify and highlight these things, then our environment will change into something that’s more positive.”
Walls affirmed Molioo’s leadership qualities, adding that he worked for Molioo before he moved on to become a first sergeant.
“He would make sure we were all good to go,” Walls said about his former flight chief. “He didn’t just show up to work and then leave, he actually cared about us and wanted us to go above and beyond the bare minimum. He taught me how to be a caring leader. He taught me to actually care about people and not do something just because ‘it’s your job.’”
Walls agreed that Airmen need to look out for each other, no matter what rank they are. He used the Air Force’s wingman concept to illustrate his point.
“The wingman concept to me is like being siblings,” he said. “Being a sibling means to take care of each other and keep each other accountable. It enables us to have fun and be ourselves around each other and at the same time, making sure we don’t get out of line. We look after each other and make sure the person next to us is doing everything they can to be the best person they can be.”
Molioo expressed how proud he is of his job and how gratifying it feels to help people. He also emphasized the importance of all uniformed service members understanding the responsibility they bear in taking care of each other--because their country depends on it.
“We’re in this organization today, wearing this uniform, to serve something greater than us,” Molioo said. “We have an amazing opportunity to make a positive impact for those around us and for our loved ones back at home.”
For Molioo, the fact that his Airmen already took an oath to serve their country is reason enough for him to be proud of them. They carry a massive responsibility which most people wouldn’t think of taking on, and Molioo said he thinks about this everytime he puts on his uniform.
This is why Molioo takes his responsibilities as a first sergeant very seriously, and reaches out to his Airmen to ensure they are not just “doing fine,” but are actually well.
“Our Airmen matter,” he said, wiping a tear from his cheek. “I appreciate each and every single one of my Airmen, and I say that with a lot of pride and humility, because to answer our nation’s call is not easy. It comes with sacrifice and sometimes loss. It is a huge responsibility each of them take, and I am reminded of that every day.
“Whether I’m at work, at home, at the gym or taking a walk around the neighborhood, I am constantly reminded of that,” Molioo concluded, his eyes turning red from the tears he tried to fight back. “These reminders are what drive me everyday, and they are the reason I stand before you today as a first sergeant.”