OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea --
Thank you for being great wingmen. Thank you for taking the time to ask your peers how they are doing, for following up and demonstrating that you care. Suicide prevention does not occur inside the walls of the medical group or the mental health flight. It occurs in the dorms, in the Songtan Entertainment District and at the food court at the Base Exchange. It happens while replacing a rack of servers, during a long shift guarding the base and under flood lights in the middle of the night - working hard to keep our aircraft flying. Suicide prevention happens when you simply return a smile to a stranger while walking to work. Your commitment to your fellow wingman is making Osan Air Base a better place to live and work.
Such vigilance is no easy task. Osan's operational tempo and the separation from family can feel overwhelming. The temptation to "just survive" can make it difficult to see the needs of those around you. The lure of escaping into alcohol is also a risky solution - as it dissolves even the strongest of Airmen: blinding them to even their own needs. No, suicide prevention certainly requires the best of each and every Airman. It demands the Core Values - it stands on integrity, an inner courage to ask fellow wingmen how they are doing, a selflessness to serve our fellow Airmen and doing everything possible to get them to care.
The majority of those who commit suicide communicate their desire to die to someone close to them within weeks before an attempt. Responding quickly can make the difference between life and death. Conversely, other wingmen in distress may not be so easy to identify, as the warning signs can be more subtle. Key items to look for are a lack of purpose, talking about death or 'how things would be better without me,' giving belongings away, seeking means to self harm, rage, withdrawal from loved ones, acting reckless, reporting feeling trapped or hopeless, increased alcohol use and sleep disturbances. Airmen show incredible courage when they ask the difficult questions - "Are you thinking of hurting yourself? Do you feel safe alone?" It is in this moment of courage that suicide can be prevented.
The results of this courage are evident. In spite of a rise in the global suicide rate by more than 60 percent in the past 45 years, the Air Force suicide rate has remained below that of the general population. Even after being at war for more than a decade, Air Force wingmen have risen to the challenge of helping prevent this most permanent of outcomes.
There are many organizations at Osan that are dedicated to supporting you in your ongoing work to care for each other. If you need help, or are worried about someone, please don't hesitate to contact your chain of command, a Chaplain, a behavioral health professional, a primary care provider or the closest emergency room. You might also consider contacting the National Suicide Lifeline calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
September is Suicide Awareness Prevention month. It is a chance to say thank you to all the great airmen on the front line who have made a difference.
For additional information on suicide prevention, please visit the following resources.