August 23, 2012

It takes a village to fight depression in our Air Force

Commentary by Maj. Rene Saenz
12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Surgeon General’s Office

We believe as Airmen that we belong to the greatest service and institution in the world. This is ingrained in us from the time we take the oath and every day thereafter, until we separate or retire. Time after time we understand and accept the challenge that there is a very small margin for error. In fact “excellence in all we do” is one of our core values. This motto helps save lives and keeps us striving to be our very best. This acknowledgement comes with acceptance, respect for the service, and dignity, yet we continue to stretch our force to its limits.

I have been in the Air Force for almost 13 years and continue to see our Airmen wearing more hats of responsibility than ever before. With the pressure to do more with less (give a 100 percent, plus some), there is no doubt that something has to give.

We often say in order to be a good “wingman” we must recognize the signs of depression in fellow Airmen that could potentially be at risk, but the fact of the matter is that we often lack the time to be the “wingman” we need to be or use to be. The “wingman” concept has been a tried and true method of helping each other since our service has been in existence. The same is true for the traditional Army “battle buddy” concept model. Maybe it is time for a different approach? Maybe we should start taking the approach of “wingmen” and “battle buddies.” This approach should start from the service members supervisor or primary rater to the Airman’s fellow co-workers. The service member should feel that he or she can trust, not only his or her fellow Airmen but trust in their leadership as well.

So I pose the question. Should we continue to depend on a singular “wingman” or “battle buddy?” Or should we all take ownership, starting with our leadership to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression by immersing ourselves with our fellow Airman and battle buddies from time to time. In this age of social networking and constantly sending messages via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc., I believe that it is time that we make a concerted effort to remove ourselves away from our desks and computers and listen to our fellow Airmen and battle buddies on a personal basis. The “human touch” or “factor” can never and should never be replaced by technology.

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Photo by Tech Sgt. Brian E. Christiansen, NC Air National Guard.

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