Say "No" to suicide

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Chip Pons
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs
At this moment, there are over seven billion people in this world; seven billion lives are separated by land and sea, cultural differences and socio-economic backgrounds, but fundamentally, our hearts beat the same, our eyes open each morning to the start of a new day and dreams of a life full of promise fill our minds.

Of those seven billion souls, 319,309 men and women have decided to devote their lives to the United States Air Force. That is roughly one percent of the American population volunteering their time and sacrificing their lives for their country. Those men and women are celebrated on Veterans Day, saluted and praised on the 4th of July, and thanked for their dedication and commitment year-round.

But when the conversation of a member of the Armed Forces committing suicide comes up, there is typically only silence.

While the number of suicides within the Department of Defense has declined over the years, suicide is still a dangerous threat to military members and their families, as well as veterans. It is a conversation that needs to be heard, not swept under the rug.

Unfortunately, suicide and the conversations surrounding it have become taboo. In the military world, paying the ultimate sacrifice for your country is an honor, dying so that others may live free. But when a service member takes their own life, the honor is gone. Their lives instantly become tarnished by a decision driven by internal struggles such as fear, self-hate or desperation. How do we as a military community solve this problem? How do we as wingmen recognize the signs of one of our teammates heading down the path of self-harm?

According to the Department of Defense Annual Suicide Report, there were 290 active duty suicides in 2015. Whether personally or professionally, these men and women felt so insignificant and optionless that the only possibility for their suffering to end was to take their own life.

The Air Force is getting smaller as each year passes, but the strength of our force cannot afford to be whittled down because of suicide. The Air Force is built upon fundamentals such as the wingman concept: having your teammates back and concern for their wellbeing. Unfortunately, being a true wingman requires one to ask the tough questions- to not back away from teammates in their moments of darkness, but help lead them into the direction of healthy decisions.

Supervisors and other seasoned leaders have the opportunity to get involved with their Airmen’s lives, to be that voice of mentorship and encouragement that is required in a high-stress work environment. Regardless of rank, individual Airmen are what make the United States Air Force the supreme air and cyber space superpower that it is. Each Airman plays a pivotal and irreplaceable role toward greater mission accomplishment. Each Airman brings a fresh and unique perspective to today’s Air Force, strengthening it through diversity and individuality.

While suicide and mental illnesses are issues that are tailored specifically to the suffering individual, a helping hand during that moment of darkness can create a lifelong effect.

At this moment, there are over seven billion people in this world, and sometimes, all you need is one to make a lasting difference.

Be a wingman, ask the hard questions and start the conversation.

Editor’s note: September 2016 is also known as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month which helps promote resources and awareness around the issues of suicide prevention, how you can help others and how to talk about suicide without increasing the risk of harm.