Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein has ordered all units to take a day before Sept. 15 to focus on preventing airmen from taking their own lives.
“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, which Task & Purpose obtained. “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.”
Last year, Goldfein asked the entire Air Force to think about what prompts airmen to go from hopeful trainees at Basic Military Training to deciding that killing themselves is the only answer.
At the time, 50 airmen had committed suicide, Goldfein wrote.
“I would never have predicted that a year later we would stand today at 78 suicides,” Goldfein write. If we do nothing, we will end 2019 with upwards of 150+. Hopeful to hopeless … what is going on? It is our job to find out.”
Goldfein wrote that a person whose high school friend had committed suicide recently him that young people choose to take their lives when they see themselves as a burden to their friends, family, and the Air Force.
That's why commanders, supervisors and superintendents need to ask themselves whether they see their airmen as a blessing or a burden, and they need to ask how their airmen see themselves, he wrote.
Air Force Magazine Reporter Brian Everstine first tweeted about the Air Force's “Resiliency Tactical Pause” on Thursday. The stand down is meant to be the start of an ongoing dialogue about how airmen are doing, said Air Force spokesman Robert Leese.
“The collected feedback will drive changes to programs if necessary, as well as inform more effective ways to empower leaders at the lowest level,” Leese said.
As part of the stand down, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright made a video in which he says the service cannot allow the number of airmen committing suicide to keep rising.
“This is your day, so make it your own,” Wright said in the video. “We won't tell you what to do. We won't tell you how to do it. You know best what your teams need.”
“You know, someone right now in your organization is struggling,” he continued. “Someone in your organization is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress or depression. Someone in your organization is feeling hopeless and they may be thinking that suicide is the answer. Given them better options. Let's lead them to a better answer.”
If you're thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press “1” to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.