The commander of one of the Air Force's two B-52 Stratofortress wings issued an apology to airmen on Monday after referring to airmen who take their own lives as "chickenshit" during an event stand down event he ordered to focus on suicide prevention within his unit.
Col. Michael A. Miller, commander of the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, reportedly commented that "killing yourself is a chickenshit way to go" during a 1.2 mile "resiliency day" run with personnel on Friday.
"Let me say that my choice of words was poor," Miller said in a statement on Monday. 'I referenced the act of suicide in a manner that was insensitive and inappropriate."
However, that one sentence doesn't capture the context or intent of the message I was trying to relay," he continued. "Battling through pain to ask for help is one of the most courageous things we can do. Asking for help is hard, so we need to build that sense of family where it is acceptable to ask for help from each other."
Miller's comments, first described by airmen in social media the popular Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page, came days after Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein ordered all units to take a day before Sept. 15 to focus on suicide prevention.
"Suicide is an adversary that is killing more of our airmen than any enemy on the planet," Goldfein write in a July 31 memo to commanders obtained by Task & Purpose. "You and I have sworn to 'defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic.' Suicide attacks sometimes with and without warning. Make this tactical pause matter. Make it yours and make it personal."
Since June 2019, three airmen from Barksdale have committed suicide, according to local ABC News affiliate KTBS-3.
A 2BW official told Task & Purpose that the Friday event was ordered on Miller's own direction not just in response to the uptick in suicides, but to a series of murders involving Barksdale airmen in the base's host city of Bossier City, a concern Miller detailed in a July 17th statement.
"I've been stationed at eight installations in my 25 year Air Force career and I have never experienced as many murders involving Airmen and their families," Miller wrote at the time. "Since I took command in June of 2018, five members associated with Barksdale Air Force Base have been murdered."
The detailed of those murders, per local outlet BossierNow:
On Sept. 25, 2018 Joshua Kidd, a technical sergeant who was assigned to the 2nd Maintenance Group, was murdered outside of his home.
On Nov. 8, 2018, Tech. Sgt. Kelly Jose and his spouse Heather Jose were murdered after giving a man a ride when they were shopping at Mall St. Vincent. Tech. Sgt. Jose was a reservist and full time civil servant Airman for the 307th Logistics Readiness Squadron.
On June 22, 2019, Mr. Antonio Williams, a U.S. Postal worker, was gunned down while delivering mail in Shreveport. He was the spouse of Ivy Shelby-Williams, a civil servant Airman in the 2nd Medical Group.
On June 30, 2019, Perry Bailey, a technical sergeant assigned to the 2nd Medical Group, was murdered in a residence in Shreveport.
"My heart has been heavy with all of the deaths the 2nd Bomb Wing has experienced recently," Miller wrote in his Monday statement. "As a sitting commander, I take this issue very seriously and care about every single one of our Airmen. I would do anything to help any one of them who may be suffering."
Read Miller's full statement below:
"First, let me say that my choice of words was poor. I referenced the act of suicide in a manner that was insensitive and inappropriate. However, that one sentence doesn't capture the context or intent of the message I was trying to relay. Battling through pain to ask for help is one of the most courageous things we can do. Asking for help is hard, so we need to build that sense of family where it is acceptable to ask for help from each other.
My heart has been heavy with all of the deaths the 2nd Bomb Wing has experienced recently. As a result, I initiated a wing-wide stand down day including a resilience run to start the day for our Airmen. Friday's event gave voice and generated awareness on a topic we must tackle – preventing suicide through strengthening our Air Force family. As a sitting commander, I take this issue very seriously and care about every single one of our Airmen. I would do anything to help any one of them who may be suffering.
As I have expressed to the Airmen of the 2nd Bomb Wing time and time again; my biggest fear is that Airmen become so overwhelmed with life and work, that they feel as though they have nowhere to go, when in fact, they have an entire Air Force family to turn to.
I want all Airmen to know that they are surrounded by a family who cares for and values them. We have the will, resolve and support in place to assist any member that is struggling. They are never alone or without help. Last Friday, I challenged and pleaded every Airmen of the 2nd Bomb Wing who is struggling to call me. I want them to know they are not alone."