Suicide prevention starts with you

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. James Twiford
  • 7th Airlift Squadron
The military, like the society we defend, has to confront some serious challenges within our own ranks. Sexual assault, substance abuse and suicide are examples of aberrant behavior that don't ever "just go away" on their own, but must always remain in our cross check. Recently our command has had an alarming increase in suicides and suicide attempts. Accordingly, we will ramp up our efforts and focus our attention on suicide awareness and prevention, and this is the right thing to do.

"What does this have to do with me?" you may be asking. And what does suicide have to do with sexual assault or substance abuse? While the vast majority of our Team McChord Airmen are not directly involved in any of these activities at a given time, we are all in the vicinity of the behavior. Many may be aware of actual events, indicators, or warning signs of them. To have that awareness makes one a bystander. And here is the opportunity for the cultural cure our Air Force must capitalize on.

Bystanders that ACT on their awareness of any evidence, signs or warnings of these cultural maladies transform themselves into Wingmen. When we create a climate that demands all persons are treated with dignity, we make sexual assault impossible to ignore or rationalize away. When we demand high standards of personal accountability and responsible decision making, driving under the influence becomes shameful instead of cool. And when we engage with a fellow Airman on a human level, we create opportunities to connect and provide hope where it may seem hopeless.

No special degree or qualification is required to be a Wingman: care enough to act instead of watch, engage rather than ignore, take ownership in lieu of deferring. That's all it takes to be a Wingman and make a difference. And it starts with you.