By: Mark Walker
A sharp spike in Air Force suicides nationwide is prompting a wide-ranging response from the American Red Cross at Joint Base Lewis McChord.
The Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces office on the base is leading a variety of suicide prevention workshops to help commanders rein in the number of self-inflicted deaths.
The Air Force reported 100 of its airmen took their own lives through Sept. 21 of this year, compared with 80 suicides in all of 2018.
As suicides far outpace combat deaths, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein ordered a service-wide stand down on Sept. 15 to focus on the problem and launch a dialogue with troops and their families.
“This is our problem, and we have to dedicate ourselves every single day to building strong and healthy airmen,” he recently told the Air Force Times.
Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Kaleth Wright summed up what’s confronting the service: “We lose more airmen to suicide than any other single enemy.”
At the Sept. 15 stand down, the Red Cross assisted JBLM commanders with small unity seminars and concentrated efforts to help troops cope with stress.
The Resiliency Program run by the Red Cross has conducted 15 such workshops in recent weeks.
“We’ve drawn more than 200 participants, and gotten very positive reactions,” said Lauren Snow from the Service to Armed Forces office on the base. “We’ve had great conversations about recognizing the signs and symptoms of someone who is suffering, and how we can help.”
One key Red Cross workshop is Emotional Grit, geared toward helping recognize the signs of depression, and teaching sound coping skills.
Other workshops include communication and behavioral skills through “Young Buddy” gatherings for base children, and skills for diffusing anger.
The Red Cross is also taking its efforts outside the gates of the Tacoma-area base, appearing before the National Military Family Association on Bainbridge Island on November 9, 2019.
Gen. Goldfein said the Air Force has to do a better job for its airmen, and forge close partnerships with agencies such as the Red Cross. “How do so many of our airmen transition from unlimited hope to hopeless? It’s our job to find out.”