Air Force to Pause Operations After Spike in Suicides

Suicide prevention. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)
Suicide prevention. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

The Air Force has announced a one-day "tactical pause" taking place over the next 45 days to address a rise in suicides across the force.

Following a letter to commanders from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright announced in a video Thursday that the effort will serve as "a new beginning" for promoting resiliency in airmen.

"Our teammates are taking their own lives," Wright said in the video, which was posted on social media. "We lose more airmen to suicide than any other single enemy."

He said 78 airmen have taken their lives in 2019, nearly 30 more than this time last year. "If we don't do something, we could lose up to 150 [or] 160 airmen in 2019, and we can't let this keep happening," Wright said.

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In his letter to commanders, Goldfein stressed that engaging with airmen on sensitive issues requires getting personal.

"Hopeful to hopeless … what is going on?" he wrote in the letter, obtained by Military.com. "It is our job to find out.

"Suicide attacks sometimes with and often without warning. Make this tactical pause matter. Make it yours and make it personal," Goldfein added.

"This is the start of an ongoing dialogue about the force's well-being, and it's going to require continuous engagement," said Maj. Will Russell, an Air Force spokesman, in a statement. "The collected feedback will drive changes to programs if necessary, as well as inform more effective ways to empower leaders at the lowest level."

Wright on Thursday stressed this will not be "a one-day effort to check a box."

"This is [the] beginning of a much-needed dialogue between airmen, command teams, helping agencies and, frankly, our entire Air Force. We have to get this thing turned around," he said.

Commanders are urged to use Air Force resources such as outreach programs, family counselors, chaplains or any organization or persons who could be of service.

"We won't tell you what to do; we won't tell you how to do it. You know best what your teams need," Wright said.

Airmen "may be thinking that suicide is the answer," he said. "Give them better options. Let's lead them to a better answer."

In 2018, a total of 325 active-duty members took their lives, including 58 Marines, 68 sailors, 60 airmen, and 139 soldiers, according to the Department of Defense quarterly suicide report.

The 2018 total surpassed the number of active-duty personnel who died by suicide in 2012, the record since the services began closely tracking the issue in 2001.

If you or someone you know needs help, the Veterans Crisis Hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 800-273-8255, press 1. Services also are available online at www.veteranscrisisline.net or by text, 838255.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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