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AF senior leaders host suicide prevention summit

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James speaks with more than 130 Airmen at the Suicide Prevention Summit at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Sept. 24, 2015. The summit’s goal was to establish an agenda to decrease suicide rates across the Air Force. (Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Whitney Stanfield)

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James speaks with more than 130 Airmen at the Suicide Prevention Summit at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Sept. 24, 2015. The summit’s goal was to establish an agenda to decrease suicide rates across the Air Force. (Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Whitney Stanfield)

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James listens to a question from Lt. Col. Lisa Bader, the U.S. Air Forces in Europe–Air Forces Africa behavioral health consultant, during the Suicide Prevention Summit at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Sept. 24, 2015. James spoke and listened to questions from the attendees after her speech. (Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Whitney Stanfield)

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James listens to a question from Lt. Col. Lisa Bader, the U.S. Air Forces in Europe–Air Forces Africa behavioral health consultant, during the Suicide Prevention Summit at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Sept. 24, 2015. James spoke and listened to questions from the attendees after her speech. (Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Whitney Stanfield)

One group discusses a strategy on how to minimize suicides among Airmen during the Suicide Prevention Summit at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Sept. 24, 2015. After the three-day training, each group presented their ideas to the chief of staff and vice chief of staff of the Air Force. (Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Whitney Stanfield)

One group discusses a strategy on how to minimize suicides among Airmen during the Suicide Prevention Summit at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Sept. 24, 2015. After the three-day training, each group presented their ideas to the chief of staff and vice chief of staff of the Air Force. (Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Whitney Stanfield)

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. (AFNS) -- Subject matter experts of mental and behavioral health, community support and Airmen across ranks and career fields gathered to discuss resiliency and suicide prevention at Joint Base Andrews from Sept. 22-25.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III opened the summit with his intent for action.

“Have a conversation,” he said. “Every Airman has a story. Learn the stories. Something has to change and you are the change agents.”

The purpose of the summit was to draw upon the vast shared experience and knowledge of attendees to discuss the complex problem of suicide, look for opportunities to improve the current prevention strategy, and develop actionable recommendations for improving the prevention program, applicable policy and other actions for completion by commanders or other leaders, like the members of Community Action Information Boards.

“We need to work together in order to preserve our most precious Air Force resource – our Airmen,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. “We need to see these numbers start going down … not remaining steady, and certainly not going up."

The four-day summit consisted of presentations from academic and medical experts in the suicide prevention field, as well as leaders from various military and industry disciplines. The presentations were followed by working groups, with representation across ranks and career fields, to improve the opportunity for creative solutions.

"We really have to look at this differently. I urge you to break from the norm,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody. “Think outside the box and consider new ideas and ways of tackling this problem. If at the end of this summit we recommend doing more of what we're already doing, then we really missed an opportunity to make a difference ... and save lives."

On the final day of the summit, working group members presented their findings and ideas to the entire audience, as well as to Air Force senior leaders. The 10 groups represented five focused suicide prevention action areas: Individual, Peers, Civilians, Unit and Leadership.

"Those who committed suicide didn’t hear we have the ability to love Airmen like dedicated parents do,” Welsh said. “They didn’t realize there’s life beyond relationships, regardless of how they end, and they certainly didn’t know that when they were unable to climb to higher ground and look beyond their problems, we would have lifted them up."

During the presentations of findings and recommendations, several overarching themes emerged: communicating with Airmen, building a culture of belonging, incorporating dedicated resiliency or medical team members in units, and building and maintaining trust.

“This culture needs to be equally inspiring to fighter pilots as to financial managers,” said Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. “We’ve got to find a way that speaks to our Air Force, because everyone matters – everyone counts.”

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