Commanders of the host units at Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field have announced local plans for a mandated Air Force-wide day-long stand-down to focus on suicide prevention.
The stand-down comes as the Air Force grapples with a significant increase in suicides over last year. Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright has noted that as of Aug. 1, 78 airmen had taken their own lives in this calendar year, 28 more than had died at their own hand at that point last year.
“We lose more airmen to suicide than any other single enemy — even more than combat,” Wright said in a video message.
In an Aug. 1 letter to Air Force commanders, Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein set a Sept. 15 deadline for a “resilience tactical pause.”
At Hurlburt Field, the stand-down is scheduled for Monday. Hurlburt Field has lost four airmen to suicide since 2018, according to Lt. Steve Bodovinitz, officer in charge of media relations for the 1st Special Operations Wing’s public affairs office.
“We need to take some time, talk to each other, and offer some ideas,” 1st SOW commander Col. Michael Conley said in a message to Hurlburt Field airmen. The 1st SOW is eschewing the briefings, training and guest speakers that routinely accompany events like the stand-down. “We’ve all sat through these before … they usually don’t work,” Conley said.
“We’ll be starting the day with a commander’s all-call with Col. Conley …,” Bodovinitz said. “Facilitators will then lead individual units in focus groups. … This will not be a traditional down day, rather, it will be a day for open and frank conversation as part of a longer-term dialogue between airmen and command teams.”
For the last two weeks, Hurlburt’s leadership has been soliciting ideas from airmen on suicide prevention. “There’s no one-size-fits-all answer,” Conley wrote, “… but I trust the leaders in this wing, regardless of rank, to pick the tools that will be most effective for their team.
“I’m not naive — I know one day of talks isn’t going to end suicide,” Conley told Hurlburt Field personnel. “But, it’s a start.” And, Conley said, Monday’s pause “won’t be a ‘one and done’ event’.”
At Eglin, Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, 96th Test Wing commander, has announced the tactical pause will be held there Sept. 3.
Since Goldfein’s mandate, Eglin has educated facilitators to assist airmen in holding conversations about suicide, Cain said in his announcement. In some instances, Cain said, small-group discussions have already begun, and conversations will continue through Sept. 15.
Cain is helping to guide conversations, telling airmen to “discuss being good Wingmen, engaging in appropriate self-care and seeking help early through our abundant resources.”
As part of its stand-down, Eglin is hosting stand-up comedian Bernie McGrenahan, whose show includes talk about his descent into drug and alcohol abuse, and how his problems were made worse by his brother’s suicide.
“Every Airman’s voice needs to be heard in an effort to evolve our approach to resilience,” Cain said, calling the stand-down “an opportunity to create an environment of connectedness.”
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