JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas — Out of the more than 20,000 people in the Joint Base San Antonio community, where do I fit in?
It’s a question I’ve asked myself several times since I arrived here, and while I know my primary job, I like to think I serve another purpose. It causes me discomfort on an everyday basis and sometimes I feel like I’m making a fool out of myself, but I do it anyway.
I speak to everyone I encounter, every day. It gets pretty awkward sometimes, because even though my job requires me to speak to strangers frequently, I’m still a bit of an introvert. Sometimes it’s easy and the person responds, some people just walk past and sometimes I get strange looks.
So why do I keep doing it?
Because in 2012, at least 349 service members committed suicide.
Maybe I’ve never met any of them and maybe there was nothing anybody could do, but we just don’t know who is next. My small part in the battle against suicide is to simply acknowledge that people exist and let them know I’m glad I saw them that day.
It might go unnoticed by many, but maybe I’ve come across someone looking for a reason or a sign not to hurt him- or her-self or to know someone cares. I might never know if it works, but I never want to know what happened when they needed it and no one was there.
It’s a grim thought, but it’s a fact that the number of suicides in the military is increasing each year. Chances are there’s going to be more before 2014.
Although we have numerous resources at our disposal such as resiliency programs, free and confidential access to mental health professionals, chaplains and many other avenues to help service members cope with suicidal thoughts, I think one small thing we can all do is reach out to those around us, even the ones that seem happy all the time.
No online or mass training can beat one-on-one interaction. While these tools can prepare us to notice the signs of suicidal behaviors, what helps us apply these skills is getting to know the people around us.
How can we know if someone is exhibiting the signs if we don’t know anything about them?
It’s impossible to meet everyone, but if we all took an active role getting to know the people in our own workplaces and mini communities, imagine how many people we could reach? What if they need just one person to ask how they are doing that day? Wouldn’t it be worth it to get a little awkward?
It’s not enough to go about your day worrying only about yourself as if 349 of our sisters and brothers-in-arms didn’t die at their own hands last year. As if more than 100 haven’t died the same way this year. The stats tell us there are going to be more. What are we going to do to prevent it?
One situation I’ll always keep in mind is about an Airman who worked in the dining facility at my first base. His demeanor was always cheerful and fun and people seemed to love being around him. The last thing I remember about him is asking if he wanted to buy gifts as part of a Valentine’s Day fundraiser. Being the kind guy he was, he bought ten, one for each of the females in his flight.
A few weeks later as we received media calls and queries about this Airman after he committed suicide, I began hearing the backstory about his struggles. He wore a smile, but he had struggles in his career, which most people did not know about and that ultimately led to his decision to end his life.
At the memorial, his close friends, still in a state of confusion, spoke about their friend who seemed to love life- the guy most of us assumed was happy and well adjusted. So if you have the chance, ask someone how they are doing and stick around for the answer. Make it a little awkward if you have to.
It might be the only sign they get that day that someone cares.