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I am here for you: Suicide and the Air Commando Family

  • Published
  • By Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster
  • Commander, Air Force Special Operations Command
For the second time this month, one of our Air Commandos took their own life. Suicide is a problem that requires us to all work together to take care of each other. I need your help, because it is all important.

Our force has been engaged in combat for nearly a decade. We have faced great challenges and made tremendous progress for our nation. Many have sacrificed much, and some have given all, in the defense of our country. Many of us know the sting of a fallen comrade, a wounded brother or sister or a grieving family. We honor their service and sacrifice through ceremony and remembrance. Our force prepares for bad news of this type, and all pull together for the sake of the family and the unit to mourn and then to return to our sworn duty.

On the other hand, when one of us takes their own life, we are left with unanswered questions, regret, remorse and sometimes even anger at what appears to be a senseless and unnecessary loss. That individual meant something to us, and we did not get the chance to prove it to them at the moment when they most needed us. We sense failure in ourselves and our culture of commitment to "never leave an Airman behind." We need to change the culture of "I can face this on my own--no matter what." We can do this by looking out for each other with more earnestness, honesty, caring questions and camaraderie that reinforces the fact that no matter what one of us faces...the rest of us will be there for them.

There are dangerous indicators that I want us all to recognize in each other. Failing relationships are involved in the majority of suicide cases. The stresses of modern-day service make relationships with our loved ones more complicated. A transient presence, difficult communications and distance conspire against the strong bonds we seek to build with spouses and loved ones.

Redeployment is a fertile ground for a period of readjustment. This is something that takes work, can be turbulent and takes some time. When these stresses are combined with alcohol consumption, which can suppress our instincts and judgment, an individual can make the wrong permanent decision. Please share this with your spouses, who are in many cases connected to a better network than we are, to find people who may be at risk and help them along the path to continued well-being.

Finally, we have to recognize that in some cases, despite our best efforts, things tragedy can happen. It is in those moments that we need to catch our friends when they are hurting and be there for them. We need to take care of each other. I am counting on you, the commanders, chiefs, shirts, and supervisors. However, the front line of defense remains our friends, teammates and partners. It is up to us to detect and help those in need.

If you are a person who is struggling with your own value or wonder if it is too much for you to handle, talk to somebody you trust. If you are serious about doing yourself harm at some time and feel you have nowhere else to turn, I am here for you. I will tell you how important you are to our mission, to your teammates and to your family. We'll get you into a support network that knows how to help you deal with these kinds of stressors. I would rather talk to you at any time of the day or night than have to look into the eyes of your grieving family members to tell them that we were not there for you when you needed us.

Protect yourself and your future. Don't drink if you are depressed, and find somebody you trust to have a frank discussion about what is bothering you. A different perspective can make all the difference. Each Air Commando has an important role to play on our team. Every person matters and is important. Each of us has a duty and responsibility to ensure that we transmit that message to each other frequently, especially when one of us faces hard times.

This is essential, and I know I can count on you.