HomeNewsFeaturesDisplay

Those left behind: the aftermath of an Airman's suicide

An Airman from the 723rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron committed suicide Jan. 26, 2009, because of personal reasons. Suicide is often spoken about as if one person is affected, but only the individuals left behind truly understand the full impact of that decision. (U.S. Air Force graphic/Airman 1st Class Joshua Green)

An Airman from the 723rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron committed suicide Jan. 26, 2009, because of personal reasons. Suicide is often spoken about as if one person is affected, but only the individuals left behind truly understand the full impact of that decision. (U.S. Air Force graphic/Airman 1st Class Joshua Green)

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AFNS) -- When Master Sgt. Robert Sams picked up Senior Airman Joshua Doherty's mother from the local airport, there was little he could say to console her for the huge loss they were all just beginning to deal with.

She was there to attend the memorial service for her son, a former 723rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief here who committed suicide Jan. 27, 2009, because of personal reasons.

"Being with his spouse and parents throughout the mourning process was just brutal," said Sergeant Sams, who was the family liaison officer assigned to Airman Doherty's family. "The young man's mother got into my car at the airport and just started crying her heart out. I didn't know what to say to console her because she would never see her son again."

Although it was tough on the family, it also took a toll on the maintenance squadron's members.

"The leadership cadre knew we had done everything possible and correctly leading up to that day," said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Claiborn, the 723rd AMXS first sergeant at the time. "We knew Airman Doherty was dealing with personal issues, and he had been in both my office and Sergeant Sams' for mentoring, and had also been referred elsewhere for counseling.

"We even asked outright if he thought of harming himself, but he instantly dismissed it as something he would never do," he added. "We helped him all we could and there were no other indications along the way that let us think suicide was a possibility. He gave all the so-called 'right' answers and gave the impression he thought things would get better."

But the morning came when Airman Doherty didn't show up for work and repeated calls and trips to his home were futile. That evening, a phone call informed the 723rd AMXS first sergeant, Master Sgt. Michael Ryan, of Airman Doherty's death and the process began to notify next-of-kin and prepare for his funeral.

"I had to make more trips back to his room to retrieve his belongings," Sergeant Sams said. "I had to pack up his clothes, including his service dress uniform and medals. It's tough picking up things that belonged to someone you know you'll never see again."

The first time Sergeant Sams spoke to Airman Doherty, he was immediately impressed by his overall bearing.

"He was one of the sharpest Airmen I'd ever met," Sergeant Sams said. "He knew how to communicate clearly and succinctly. He had a bright future in the Air Force, and losing that is hard to deal with."

Although the military lost a young man with potential, many Airmen within the 723rd AMXS also lost something else -- a close friend.

Senior Airman Ryan James had been friends with Airman Doherty since they were at technical school together.

"He was an outgoing, comedic guy who made everything fun, and he definitely won't be forgotten," Airman James said. "We had so many good times. We went to Savannah, Ga., for St. Patrick's Day and spent hours in my room playing Guitar Hero. He was talented on the guitar and really liked playing my keyboard."

Requested by Airman Doherty's mother to be at the Feb. 21 funeral in Nevada, Airman James attended and performed two songs on the keyboard, including the emotional "I Can Only Imagine."

"Seeing my best friend in an open casket felt like a hammer just pounding me," Airman James said. "It was hard to believe he would never wake up. Once he was gone, things were different, and it felt like a piece was missing from my everyday life.

"While everyone has their problems, it can be hard to know what they're really going through unless you're very direct with them," he added. "Airman Doherty was the type of guy I could always go to and talk about what was going on in my life."

Because he was so close to Airman Doherty, the suicide has led Airman James to take a more direct approach when he notices signs of stress in other Airmen.

"Soon after the suicide, someone else started showing signs they were under a lot of stress, so I went to them and directly asked, 'What's going on?' and 'Do you want to talk?'" Airman James said. "I put myself out there and talk to those who need it. Letting them know what's going on in my life and what's stressing me out helps them open up.

"People who think about hurting themselves often conclude they're alone, or there's not anybody who cares, but there is always some for them to talk to," Airman James said. "A permanent solution to a temporary problem will affect so many more people than the one who's no longer here."

Engage

Twitter
.@RamsteinAirBase welcomed 200 volunteers sent by the German military in support of Operation Allies Refuge during… https://t.co/GsAf6EQzi4
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: On the 20th Anniversary of 9/11, we will never forget. #PatriotDay #NationalDayofServiceandRemembrance https://t.co/PfGXl…
Twitter
.@TeamMinot, N.D., hosted Operation Road Warrior for its #Defenders and Wyoming's @90thMissileWing security forces… https://t.co/xnFRoierGT
Twitter
Today, we recognize Patriot Day and remember the thousands of lives lost in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. We acknow… https://t.co/BMgNcZ9fuE
Twitter
Multinational students and #AirForce instructors from around the globe came together to learn and expand on allied… https://t.co/1qtqi9OrN2
Twitter
Throughout August, Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, @grandslamwing operated as a transit hub for Afghan refugees evacuated… https://t.co/amVMg8VqlE
Twitter
The #AirForce released its 2021 assessment on how states support Air and Space Force families. The evaluation measu… https://t.co/bseHKsXUzM
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: A message from @USAirForce & @SpaceForceDoD senior leaders leading up to 9/11: "We will never forget the nearly 3,000 in…
Twitter
Findings from the Department of the Air Force Inspector General Independent Racial Disparity review have been relea… https://t.co/zUZyNB2gT4
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: SecAF Kendall on the two disparity reviews released today by the Department of the Air Force: "[This] isn’t the end of a…
Twitter
RT @UnderSecAF: Our continued commitment of honesty and transparency to the women and men of the Air Force and Space Force remains unwaveri…
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: We must continue to listen to our people, understand what they are experiencing, and receive their feedback as we take st…
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: The Department of the Air Force released updates on its first Racial Disparity Review & the results of a second, expande…
Twitter
The Department of the Air Force released a progress update on the Inspector General Independent Racial Disparity Re… https://t.co/yStaRW3ZA9
Twitter
Innovators and thought leaders gathered at the AFWERX Innovation Hub in Las Vegas, Nevada, to review technologies t… https://t.co/Oozq4M1Xek
Twitter
Air chiefs and senior enlisted leaders from the Indo-Pacific region gathered for the Pacific Air Chiefs Symposium a… https://t.co/E3nzEm18If
Twitter
A new technology being directed for use by all @USAF_ACC installations. The Command and Control Incident Management… https://t.co/ovEDVVTYAB
Twitter
Airmen and Guardians selected for a permanent change of station can now access automated family member travel scree… https://t.co/fGbTPuieaz
Facebook
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Facebook
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Facebook
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
Facebook
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
Facebook
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Facebook
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Facebook
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Facebook
Like Us
Twitter
1,374,675
Follow Us