More than idle words

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Marjorie A. Bowlden
  • 911th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Over the April unit training assembly, Airmen from all around the base were called to do the majority of their total force awareness training at the same time. We all gathered in the hangar for commander’s call and mass briefings, then after a few hours we shuffled off to our respective locations for group training. Resiliency. Information protection. Suicide prevention. Active shooter. The list goes on.


I heard the grumbles. I saw the bleary eyes, the yawns, and the people trying desperately to look like they weren’t falling asleep. I don’t think anyone can say with 100% honesty that they enjoy mass briefings like these, and I’m not about to try to tell you otherwise. Often, we think that we’ll never need the training, but I know from experience that sometimes it’s vital.


A few years ago, a fellow member of our wing used suicide prevention and resiliency training to reach out to me. I had been extremely sick and hospitalized, and as a result, I had to drop out of school. I was concerned that these health issues might jeopardize my Air Force career. My family was going through financial hardship. My long term relationship had ended. I felt like my entire world had turned upside down.


On my first UTA back from my illness, Senior Master Sgt. Richard Oram of the safety office pulled me aside to ask how I was doing. I told him everything that had happened and said that I wasn’t handling it as well as I would like. He put a hand on my shoulder, looked me straight in the eye and asked me a question I will never forget.


“Are you thinking about killing yourself?”


I was shocked speechless at first. I can still tell you exactly what was running through my mind. Do I seem that depressed? Am I really that bad?


I told Oram truthfully that no, I wasn’t suicidal. However, I realized later that I easily could have gone down the suicidal path and never noticed the transition in my mental state had Oram not pointed it out. After all, they say that if you heat the water slowly enough, a frog in the water doesn’t realize it’s in danger until the water is already boiling.


During training over the April UTA, I thought about sharing this experience with my group, but I held my tongue. I ended up regretting my silence in the wake of the tragic events in the weeks that followed.


Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, April 8, 2016. Lt. Col. William A. Schroeder, 342nd Training Squadron commander, and Tech. Sgt. Steven D. Bellino, a 342nd TRS student, died as the result of a workplace violence incident. The incident remains under investigation.


Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, April 11, 2016. Lt. Col. Patrick Whelan, 36th Mission Support Group deputy commander, was found dead by suspected suicide, according to the base’s public affairs office.


These events make it quite clear: Suicide prevention and resiliency must be taken seriously.


Resiliency and suicide prevention are the responsibility of us all. We have to have the courage to be blunt and honest when it counts, and we have to be able to catch the small warning signs in our brothers and sisters when they present themselves. Even one suicide is too many.


It says clearly in our Airman’s creed, “I will never leave an Airman behind.” We have to realize that these are so much more than idle words.