One Airman's tragedy is another's life lesson

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Michael Russell
  • 97th Training Squadron
I still remember the confusion I felt as I slid out of bed to find the phone. It was ringing too loudly and too early to be the office. Living in the U.K., my wife and I had become accustomed to late calls as relatives struggled to figure out the time difference, but it was too late for that. In my gut I sensed bad news.

"Hello?" I answered.

"Mike..." It was my mother, straight to the point; "Nick shot himself."

"What? he ok?" I asked, still foggy, hoping it was some type of accident.

"No, he's gone..."

From there things get blurry. How do you respond to news like that? I remember my wife putting her hand on my shoulder as I sat on the phone for a few moments, frozen. When the sun rose I called my first sergeant, telling him I wouldn't be able to fly that day's mission. Shortly thereafter, my commander called with a list of departure times for space-available flights crossing the Atlantic.

In a state of shock and denial I debated going home at all. "That's up to you," he said. "But I think you need to pack a bag and go."

I've made some great friends in my career. Some are life-long and some I've lost touch with as a result of permanent changes of station and a growing family, appropriately so, but none of them can replace my brother. As an adult, your little brother is no longer the kid that you have to take with you to your friend's house--he becomes a true companion. As an avid outdoorsman, we spent our vacations snowboarding and hiking. We were planning a 500-mile enduro ride in the mountains of our native state of Idaho. I often wondered what the future held for him: what would he choose for a career? Who would he marry? How would he be as a father? These questions will never be answered.

The bottom line is that many who struggle with depression and/or consider suicide face challenges that they are unable to see past. As a result they react in ways they wouldn't normally, usually during a period of uncertainty.

Today's Airmen--that's active duty, guard, reserve, and civilians--must face uncertainty. A manageable degree of uncertainty is inherent with the flexibility that coexists with projecting air power. On the world stage we face uncertainty when we consider the future of the Middle East, China, and our own economy. Some face uncertainty in their personal lives and relationships.

However, an Airman can always be certain that there is a wingman they can rely on. Though it sounds cliché, the wingman concept is straight forward and effective. If you know someone who you believe is at risk for suicide, remember the ACE acronym.

ASK - Ask the person if he or she is thinking of their self or others, be direct.
CARE - Listen, show concern for their struggle.
ESCORT - Escort the person to a chaplain or medical professional. Don't ever leave the person alone.

In addition, if you feel that you need someone to talk to, don't let your issues fester. Consider speaking with a military family life consultant; they are trained, civilian counselors ready to speak with service and family members. Sessions are non-threatening, free, and anonymous--no records are kept. You can get more information by calling the Airman and Family Readiness Center at 481-6761.

In reality, the solution was so simple for Nick--reach out for help. I don't know if he did or not, but statistically we know that he probably displayed signals before he ended his life. Whether anyone saw them is a mystery, but I wish there had been someone, a friend, family member, or wingman, to answer his cry for help.