Wingman culture key to suicide prevention, resiliency

by Staff Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Resiliency is a term describing skill sets for Airmen to bounce back and grow following adversity. The Wingman Culture strengthens Airmen by providing them the tools and support to face the challenges of military life, especially while deployed. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Staff Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton)
Resiliency is a term describing skill sets for Airmen to bounce back and grow following adversity. The Wingman Culture strengthens Airmen by providing them the tools and support to face the challenges of military life, especially while deployed. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Staff Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton)

9/27/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — Resiliency is a term describing skill sets for Airmen to bounce back and grow following adversity. The Wingman Culture strengthens Airmen by providing them the tools and support to face the challenges of military life, especially while deployed.

September is known across the Department of Defense as Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, focusing efforts on the Wingman Culture and the availability of helping agencies for all service members. In a recent press statement, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said leaders throughout the department must make it understood that seeking help is a sign of strength and courage, not a sign of weakness. Echoing his secretary, President Barack Obama said there should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses that affect too many people.

“We see it in veterans who come home from the battlefield with the invisible wounds of war,” the president said. “[These are veterans], who feel somehow that seeking treatment is a sign of weakness when, in fact, it’s a sign of strength.”

The DOD has launched numerous programs, hired hundreds of experts and continues promoting the importance of looking out for one another. Many of these programs and helping agencies are found at the nation’s largest expeditionary wing, the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing.

“The Chaplain Corps assists Airmen struggling with suicide by providing a support that includes: a safe place to share their problems with complete confidentiality, a support network through a referral program that includes other helping agencies on base and spiritual care provided by a professional religious support team,” said Maj. Ismael Rodriguez, the 379th AEW deputy wing chaplain deployed from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., and a San Antonio native. “It is extremely important for every Airman regardless of rank and position to seek help and know that it is a perfectly acceptable option.”

The chaplain said he sometimes sees people who are afraid to seek help because they think it will somehow end their career in the Air Force. Rodriguez said he tells Airmen it is better to voluntarily ask for help when they are just beginning to feel overwhelmed or start struggling with having a sense of hopelessness than to wait for the situation to worsen.

“It is never too late to see a chaplain or health care provider,” he continued. “We have a chaplain on call 24/7 and we will be there to respond and be with that individual for as long as that Airman needs us.”

The Air Force wants its Airmen and their families to thrive in good times and bad. The service continuously strives to improve Airmen performance and readiness by building their confidence to lead, courage to stand up for their beliefs, and capacity for compassion to help others.

“It is important for Airmen to seek early assistance before feelings of suicide,” said Staff Sgt. Aaron Guin, a 379th Expeditionary Medical Operations Squadron mental health NCO in charge deployed from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, S.C., and hails from Denver. “If you’re having feelings of suicide, tell your Wingman or someone you trust. Our Wingmen and supervisors are incredibly important because they are the first to notice if behaviors change.”

Guin said mental health works with all the helping agencies on base including the chapel, Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, and military and family life counselors. The mental health clinic is open for walk-ins 7 days a week, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is on call 24/7.

The Air Force supports it’s Airmen in responsibly seeking help and according to the 379th AEW wing staff agencies first sergeant, Senior Master Sgt. Darrell Harmon, it’s all about getting to know the people with whom you serve.

“Sometimes our Airmen just want to sit down and talk with someone they know and trust,” Harmon said, who is deployed from Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, and a Chicago native. “As supervisors and first sergeants, we need to express a genuine interest in our people and their development.”

Harmon said an Airman came to him one time asking to sit and talk. The first sergeant said during their conversation not once did it seem to him his troop was considering suicide. But months later, he received an email thanking him for the chat that day — for he had considered taking his own life, but it was because of Harmon’s genuine care, he made the choice to live.

“You may not know it at the time, but your actions have a huge impact on your people,” he said. “First sergeants and supervisors are an Airman’s first step to getting the help they need. It’s up to us to point them in the right direction and be involved. We need to know what resources are available so we can be good Wingmen, leaders and mentors.”

Good Wingmen support others who ask for help when they are in crisis and remove any barriers to responsibly getting help.

“We can all make a difference by helping our Wingmen understand they are not alone and positive support is available,” said Brig. Gen. Roger Watkins, the 379th AEW commander. “Our expeditionary Airmen have been engaged in a long war highlighted by continuous and sustained operational deployments and a demanding operations tempo. These service members are accomplishing a significant mission here that is vitally important to the safety and security of our nation.”

Although the resilience of the overall force has been remarkable, recurrent deployments and high mission tempo can affect service members’ ability to recover and restore total fitness and balance in every dimension of their lives. The Air Force created the Air Force Deployment Transition Center to combat these issues. DTC uses a resiliency-building, strength-based approach to empower Airmen at high-risk for traumatic exposure to decompress and successfully progress through the reintegration process before returning home.

All service members can help him identify early warning signs in their Wingmen and intervene to ensure others get help when needed. For 24/7 assistance call the base command post at 436-0160. Below is a list of resources available for service members both here and worldwide.

Resources:
379th Expeditionary Medical Group: 437-4216

379th MDG Mental Health Clinic: 437-8767

379th AEW Victory Chapel: 437-8811

Veterans Crisis Line
http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/

DOD Suicide Prevention and Awareness Program
http://www.defense.gov/home/features/2012/0812_suicide-prevention/

Air Force Suicide Prevention
http://www.afms.af.mil/suicideprevention/

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

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