Connecting to protect against suicide

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jonathan Stefanko
  • 434 ARW Public Affairs
In response to rising suicide rates within the Air Force, senior Grissom leaders united in a call to action to discuss the resources available to Airmen in need -- and stress the importance of continual communication.

“Suicides are a really big problem in the military,” said Col. Larry Shaw, 434th Air Refueling Wing commander. “People are taking their own lives and we need to be the first line of defense to prevent that from happening.”

As of August 31st there have been more than 92 total force members who have taken their own lives in Air Force. That number comprises both military and civilian members and include the Guard and Reserve.

Christy Shives, 434th ARW violence prevention integrator, opened the briefing with a presentation to show the rising suicides trend. While she noted suicides are on track to be as high as last year, there may be a spike as the pandemic continues.

“In 2018, the Air Force Reserves lost three Airmen to suicide,” she said. “By August last year, we lost nine. And August this year, we have already lost 10. The trajectory is on the rise and rising at an alarming rate.

“The risk factors are the same. The top factors include financial stresses, relationship and workplace problems, and alcohol consumption. However, the pandemic is amplifying these risk factors, it is more important now than ever to talk with your people and ensure they are okay.”

The increase in isolation and loss of routine due to the pandemic brings new challenges that are building atop the everyday hardships people already experience. However, Shives notes that while the figures are cause for alarm, all is not lost.

“The big question is how leaders can mitigate risk,” Shives asked the audience. “The first, and most important, thing you can do is talk with your folks and ensure they know you care. If you are only available when things are going well, then it is unlikely for anyone to come to you when things are going bad.”

“Get out and talk to your people,” Shaw emphasized. “And by talk I mean not just say ‘hello, how are you?’ as you pass in the hallway. Deliberate communication that shows empathy is a must.”

Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Alex Jack, 434th ARW chaplain, also took a moment to inform the audience that building a bond with troops may not happen overnight or be easy. However, they do not have to do it alone.

“One of the key things is building connectedness and those relationships,” Jack said. “We know that this is not always an easy thing to do, especially when you may only see your troop once a month, but we are here to help in any way we can.”

If you or someone you know is in a crisis, help is available by calling the Veterans/Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, press 1, or visit and chat online, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We are all in this together,” Shaw said. “That is the message that I want people to hear and understand.”

The 434th ARW is the largest KC-135R Stratotanker unit in the Air Force Reserve Command. The Citizen Airmen from the Hoosier Wing routinely deploy around the world in support of the Air Force mission.

Stay connected with the 434th ARW on Facebook and Twitter.