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Air Force orders "stand down" to address rising suicide rate

The Air Force is dealing with an epidemic of suicide.
Posted: 10:46 AM, Aug 22, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-22 14:21:42-04
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright (US Air Force photo)

The Air Force is dealing with an epidemic of suicide. So far this year, there have been 30 more suicides among airmen than there were by this time last year.

"We lose more airmen to suicide than any other single enemy. Even more than combat. Seventy eight of our brothers and sisters have given up on life this year alone," said Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright.

In an extraordinary video message earlier this month, Chief Wright explained why the Air Force is ordering a first-ever suicide stand down — a day off from regular operations to focus on an epidemic of young people like Airman Xinhua Mesenberg taking their own lives. "The stress life has given me finally broke my will to live," he texted his parents just before he shot himself last January.

"If we don't do something, we could lose up to 150, 160 airmen in 2019," Wright added.

According to Air Force Magazine , "commanders must stop most operations on a day that best suits their mission and gather their units to discuss resiliency and mental health, and to ensure airmen are well."

Chief Wright posted on his official Facebook page : "Our Chief of Staff, Gen. David L. Goldfein directed the Resilience Tactical Pause to allow Air Force leaders on the ground the time to start a dialogue with Airmen about resilience. This 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. This is our chance to take care of our Airmen ... our family!"

General Goldfein posted : Today I directed Air Force leaders to take a day and engage their teams on the most important issue we face in the Air Force. We must do better with our discussion around the issue of suicide. This year we have lost 78 Airmen. One life lost is too many. Make this time matter. Make it yours. We must take the time to listen, connect and address the issues that are shifting our teammates' outlook from hopeful to hopeless. As leaders, wingmen, as brothers and sisters in arms -- we must take care of each other.

In the Marine Corps, 2018 was the worst year ever with 77 suicides and 354 attempts. Gen. Robert Neller, who recently retired as commandant, wrote in four years he had lost 224 Marines to suicide and only four to combat. In a Facebook post, he said, "let us help each other."

In his letter, Neller speculated social media might have something to do with it. But he seemed to doubt taking to social media himself would do much good.

What's happening in the military is also happening in the civilian world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , suicide rates nationwide have gone up 31% since 2001. Among young people, it is the second leading cause of death after accidents.

For immediate help if you are in a crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All calls are confidential.