With an eye on rising suicide rates, the Air Force has ordered all wings to stand down for one day to focus on suicide prevention.
In a video posted online Thursday, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright said 78 airmen have taken their own lives so far in 2019.
“We lose more airmen to suicide than any other single enemy,” Wright said in the video. “Even more than combat. Seventy-eight of our brothers and sisters have given up on life in this year alone — 78.”
That’s 28 more than the number of suicides at this time last year, he said.
In a message to commanders Thursday, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein gave wings until Sept. 15 to hold their “resilience tactical pause,” the Air Force Times reported.
Airman Xinhua Mesenberg texted his parents before he took his own life last January. “The stress life has given me finally broke my will to live,” the text said, according to a CBS News report.
“If we don’t do something, we could lose up to 150, 160 airmen in 2019,” Wright added in the same video. “We can’t let this keep happening.”
The “resiliency tactical pause” is meant to be a “break in the daily grind,” he also said. “We can focus on our airmen and their well being.”
This is meant to be more than a one-day effort, Wright emphasized. He expects an ongoing dialogue between airmen, command teams and agencies to determine what can be done to address the problem.
“This is your day,” the non-commissioned officer said. “So make it your own. We won’t tell you want to do. We won’t tell you how to do it. You know best what your teams need.”
This is a growing problem in civilian life, as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates have risen more than 30 percent in half of all states since 1999. And more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition, the CDC said.
There are some 8,000 airmen and airwomen, including reservists, stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, one of the largest Air Force bases in the nation.
Questions were sent to Wright-Patterson and U.S. Air Force representatives Friday.
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