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Air Force suicides reached record high in 2019

Peterson AFB (U.S. Air Force/Released)
February 03, 2020

The U.S. Air Force saw a record high 137 suspected suicides in 2019, according to new statistics released by the military branch.

The statistics first appeared in leaked images on the Air Force amn/nco/nco Facebook page on Thursday. An Air Force spokesperson confirmed the figures directly to American Military News on Monday.

“There were 137 Total Force suicides for calendar year 2019. This number includes Active Duty, Reserve, Guard, and Department of the Air Force Civilians,” Air Force spokesperson Lynn Kirby told American Military News.

Kirby also confirmed that the number of suicides was the highest since the Air Force began tracking the data in 2008, and the data in the leaked images was accurate at the time they were created.

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The 137 suicides present a sharp rise over suicide rates in 2018, a year that saw 103 suicide deaths. The number of deaths amounts to about a 33 percent increase in the past year. The figures consisted of active, reserve and Air National Guard members, as well as those who work for the Air Force in a civilian capacity.

The initial leaked numbers indicated 136 suspected suicide deaths, though the Air Force said the change in figures is due to fluctuations as the branch worked to confirm the number of suicide deaths.

The images indicate the branch had noticed a disproportionately high number of suicides among male service members. The Air Force is roughly 80 percent male, though males represented 92 percent of suicide deaths.

Of note, the highest number of suicides appeared to occur among units handling aircraft maintenance and security. The branch notes those career fields skew toward younger, more male service members. The leaked image suggested those service members are also more “familiar with lethal means.”

The branch reported about 1/3rd of those who committed suicide had seen a relationship fail within the three months prior to their deaths. The branch also noted around 10 percent of those who committed suicide were the subject of an investigation within three months of the suicide.

The Air Force struggles with suicide have been a point of discussion at various moments throughout the year.

“The Department of the Air Force has been and continues to pursue immediate, mid-term, and long-range suicide prevention initiatives for the Total Force that focus on connections between individuals, units, and Air Force family; protections in environments, services, and policies; detection of risk in individuals and units; and equipping the Total Force and family members to mitigate risk and increase resilience,” Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services of the Air Force told American Military News on Monday.

“Suicide is a difficult national problem without easily identifiable solutions that has the full attention of leadership,” Kelly added.

In August, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein called for all Air Force units to participate in a one-day stand-down to discuss suicide prevention.

At the time Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth Wright spoke in a video to warn his fellow service members of the high suicide rates.

At the time of the video, some 78 airmen had reportedly taken their lives. In the video, Wright warned that at the current rate, the Air Force would see between 150 and 160 deaths by the end of the year.

“We lose more airmen to suicide than any other single enemy,” Wright said at the time. “Even more than combat.”

To go with the stand-down, Wright ordered that the various Air Force units conduct resiliency training and that such training “will not be a ‘one-off’ or a PowerPoint presentation.”

“We want leaders to look their Airmen in the eyes and find the right ways to lead them to every type of wellness,” Wright wrote. “This is our chance to take care of our Airmen … our family!”