HomeNewsCommentariesDisplay

Follow up: It can be a matter of life, death

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. (AFNS) -- She was a hero. She was someone who had the courage to act when it mattered most. She was a true wingman. She saw the warning signs of depression and suicidal ideations in a friend, she made the right calls, made the right decisions and her friend's life was saved. This Airman knew the warning signs well, because she had been there before.

I had the opportunity to meet this life-saving Airman after learning of her proactive intervention. I sat with her in my office as she tearfully related to me some of her personal experience with depression and thoughts of taking her own life, and how that helped her know what to do when she realized her friend felt she had reached the end of hope.

This Airman was able to meet with me that day because she sought help, and, thankfully and more importantly, she was there for her friend when she needed her the most. She said, "Asking for help is not a weakness. It's a strength. You've got to be able to admit you need help, and that takes strength."

About a year after I spoke with this "hero Airman," I was informed that she had tragically taken her own life. I was stunned. How could an Airman who seemed to have risen from depression, and had even saved someone's life, end up in a frame of mind where taking her life appeared her only option? What went wrong? Why didn't her previous experiences and knowledge work?

The major lesson I learned from all of this was that preventing suicide is not a one-time event. This Airman's saga demonstrates that we cannot assume that once someone has received mental health treatment and successfully walked through dark times that they're inoculated and won't relapse and require further help. We also can't assume that just because someone acknowledges that they know asking for help is a sign of strength that they will actually do it (even if they have in the past).

I'm not insinuating that anyone who has sought mental health help or has expressed suicidal ideations should be on perpetual suicide watch. What I'm getting at is that we need to be engaged with our Airmen and know how they are doing no matter how "stable" or "unstable" we perceive them to be.

I was stationed at what was then Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, and our wing commander was Brig. Gen. Thomas Tinsley. I remember attending a commander's call at the base theater where Tinsley encouraged us to be good wingmen and to seek help if we needed it. He was clear in his delivery, confident as a leader and by all appearances had it all together. It was for these reasons I was shocked to learn only a couple weeks after that commander's call that Tinsley had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. What went wrong? He was a general officer. I guess I assumed at the time that someone like him shouldn't be at risk.

Mental health issues and factors that lead to suicide are no respecters of rank, job, gender or age. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking there's a demographic that's "safe" and to whom we don't need to pay attention. Every Airman matters and we need to care for each other accordingly.

Really taking care of Airmen means more than passing them off to a helping agency, assuming they're good to go, and then moving on. It means following up over the long term and not allowing ourselves to believe that anyone is immune from needing a helping hand, and more than just once. It may be that follow up is the difference between life and death.

Editor's note: If you or someone you know is thinking about hurting yourself or others, help is available. Contact mental health, a chaplain, family advocacy or someone in your chain of command today, you can find helpful resources on your base's resiliency Web page or the Air Force's suicide prevention Web page.

Engage

Facebook Twitter
DYK: Aircraft have lifespans! Like humans, they require check-ups in the form of maintenance inspections to prolong their ability to fly. These "checks" prevent in-flight system failures which ultimately protects aircrew and passengers. Learn more from the 86th Maintenance Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany on what it takes to correct issues so aircraft can stay airborne.
WATCH: United States Air Force pilots talk about the importance of Exercise Saber Strike 18 as they refuel over the Baltic Sea on June 18, 2018. Saber Strike 18 is a long-standing training exercise designed to enhance interoperability between the U.S. and our allies. The training focused on improving land and air operational capabilities between the U.S. and our NATO allies. (U.S. Air National Guard video by: Master Sgt. Wolfram M. Stumpf)
Check out some shots from yesterday's All-Star Armed Services Classic Championship softball game in Washington, D.C. This event, part of MLB’s All-Star Week, pays tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces. Washington Nationals U.S. Army
Air Force and U.S. Army coed softball teams render military honors during the playing of the National Anthem during the All-Star Armed Services Classic Championship softball game, Washington, D.C., July 13, 2018. This event, part of MLB’s All-Star Week, pays tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces. Washington Nationals
Great way to lead by example!
The United States Air Force is facing a pilot shortage. To help solve the challenge, the Aircrew Crisis Task Force was recently created to provide strategic direction and actionable recommendations to senior leaders on how to solve the aircrew manning crisis. FULL STORY: https://go.usa.gov/xUb3z
Your United States Air Force news: ✓ A B-52 crew assists in a search and rescue operation off the coast of Guam ✓ An Afghan pilot class graduates in the Czech Republic ✓ The Air Force is using innovative approaches to training pilots to make the process faster and more efficient
Now that’s how weathermen work! Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters fly weather reconnaissance missions into Tropical Storm Chris and Tropical Storm Beryl. http://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1569944/hurricane-hunters-fly-tropical-storms-beryl-chris/
The F-22 Raptor's combination of stealth, supercruise, maneuverability, and integrated avionics, coupled with improved supportability, represents an exponential leap in warfighting capabilities. The F-22 cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft. Maintaining these aircraft can involve a bit of a learning curve. Airmen at KadenaAirBase use past technology to help learn how to work with the undefeated Raptor. FULL STORY: http://www.kadena.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1567295/hard-to-raptor-head-around/
Help us out! Can you caption this photo?
The B-52 Stratofortress has sniper pods that provide improved long-range target detection/identification and continuous stabilize surveillance for all missions, including close air support of ground forces. Air Force Global Strike Command crew members on a B-52 were able to spot a historic Pacific Island style canoe so that the U.S. Coast Guard could rescue the six passengers!
For the past 60 years, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has continually helped us maintain a technological edge against our advarsaries. Together with the Air Force Research Laboratory - AFRL, a fusion of ideas is leading to newly highlighted innovations.
SOUND ON! Celebrate freedom with the sound of freedom! Happy Independence Day!
During #ASC18, our #Airmen asked: Where are we today on developing new space operators & where will we be in the ne… https://t.co/a3IGP2gpnt
During #ASC18, our #Airmen asked: How do you see multi-domain command & control integrating with our allies?… https://t.co/GzyNIWKaWg
RT @AFResearchLab: Our team is showing off how fantastic our booth is this year! So come meet us at #booth601 for knowledge on what we do a…
RT @US_Stratcom: Gen Hyten: “All of our oaths start the same way, we swear an oath to the #Constitution, to a set of ideals written down on…
#ICYMI: @SecAFOfficial discussed the significance of the 70th Anniversary of the #BerlinAirlift during a commemorat… https://t.co/MLP7m1A1d1
.@SecAFOfficial: In his time, Billy Mitchell was the advocate for the #USAF we need. Now it's up to us -- all of us… https://t.co/5nfk096dpw
.@SecAFOfficial: I want to thank all of you for what you are doing to build a more lethal & ready #USAF, to field t… https://t.co/dVv7UUM3RI
.@SecAFOfficial: Over the past 6 months, #USAF acquisition has striped 56 yrs out of planned schedules in our acqui… https://t.co/6FgjTGUeVn
.@SecAFOfficial: By December of this year we will have closed that gap to zero. #ASC18
.@SecAFOfficial: In September of 2016, the #USAF was short 4,000 maintainers. #ASC18
.@SecAFOfficial: We have an obligation to our countrymen. To tell them, as those before us have done in their time,… https://t.co/xYAyI4NPe5
.@SecAFOfficial: The #USAF we need to implement the National Defense Strategy has 386 Operational Squadrons. #ASC18 https://t.co/tuoryyPTXF
.@SecAFOfficial: So, What will it take? 386. #ASC18
.@SecAFOfficial: The #USAF is too small for what the nation expects of us. 312 Operational Squadrons is not enough. #ASC18
#LIVE: @SecAFOfficial talks the "Air Force We Need" during the 2018 Air, Space and Cyber Conference. #ASC18https://t.co/F67IXy9mQQ