RAF MILDENHALL, England (AFNS) — (Editor’s note: For privacy reasons, the name of the male Airman has been changed.)
Previous experience working for a crisis prevention and intervention hotline helped an Airman from the 352nd Special Operations Support Squadron here, save another Airman’s life.
Back in June 2013, Airman 1st Class Julia Cap, a geospatial imagery analyst, had just arrived at RAF Mildenhall. She had just finished in-processing, when Ray, the ex-boyfriend of one of her friends from technical school, contacted her.
“He reached out to me, because his girlfriend, who was my friend, broke up with him,” Cap said.
Ray was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. His former girlfriend had recently been assigned to Japan. As a result, they had broken up. During that initial contact, Cap realized that he was at an emotional low point. She knew this was a chance for her to step up and step in.
“During my (crisis prevention and suicide awareness) training, there were three key words that we would pick up on, helpless, hopeless and worthless, and (Ray) used all of them,” Cap said. “He was saying things like, ‘I don’t know what to do; she’s all that I have. I have nothing left.’ In our training, when someone gives you some sort of cue, you ask right away, ‘Do you feel like hurting yourself?’ or, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’
“I asked (Ray) if he’d thought about hurting himself, and he said yes,” Cap said. “From there, I told him he needed to go and talk to his chaplain or supervisor and he said he was going to.”
Cap checked back the next day and Ray said his chaplain was on leave and he didn’t want to speak with his supervisor. In addition, since he was in the intelligence career field, Ray was worried he might lose his security clearance because of how he was feeling.
“Initially, he said he didn’t know what to do; he felt very hopeless — like he didn’t have anything else left for him,” Cap said. “He was talking about life in general, about his relationship, and said he hated his job.”
Ray also said he regretted joining the military, and felt he shouldn’t have persuaded his then-girlfriend to join the military either.
“Even if I hadn’t had training, I think I would have picked up on the fact he was in trouble, just because of the way he was talking,” Cap said. “We were emailing each other, that’s the way he reached out to me, and in one day I would get six or seven emails from him, without having even responded to any of them. He was just very needy, and that’s what I picked up on.”
Cap’s prior training taught her to encourage Ray to get help and also to have him think about things he had to hold on to.
“He was talking about getting a new car, and had been putting the money away to save up for it,” she said. “Then he said he shouldn’t have done that, but instead should have used the money to go and visit his girlfriend right away. But he was really excited about the car, so I told him, ‘Well, you might not have this relationship any more, but you have all this money saved up for a car, which you’re really excited about.’ (I knew to keep him) looking into the future and at the positives.”
The 352nd SOSS Airman also reminded Ray he would be seeing his family soon and that would help make things easier for him, as it would take his mind off his problems.
“When people are in that zone of where they only see the negatives, it’s really hard for them to see any positive future. They sometimes just need reminding of the good things that are still there,” she said.
After about a week of regularly emailing back and forth with Ray, Cap knew the time had come for her to elevate the situation since Ray was not getting any better. After having given Ray an ultimatum to speak with his supervisor or chaplain or she would contact her leadership, Cap realized that she had no choice but to get others involved.
She explained to her supervisor what was going on, and the two of them worked with her first sergeant to reach out to Ray’s first sergeant.
Cap continued to speak with Ray. At one point he was on an uptrend because his ex-girlfriend had spoken with him again, but within a few days his ex-girlfriend had stopped talking to him and Ray fell back into his depression.
It was a Monday when Ray was feeling so low that he was prepared to drive his car off the road.
“He was emailing (me) throughout the day, and when I got off work I had text messages from him, asking me to call him,” Cap said.
Ray had been to visit his family in Houston over the weekend and was making the drive back to San Antonio so that he could begin his shift at 2 p.m.
“I called (Ray), and he said, ‘I need you to talk to me; I’m having really bad thoughts. I’m driving home and I found myself driving at 100 mph.’ He was freaking out, so I told him to pull over, because he was in no state to drive.”
Cap stayed on the phone with Ray, talking to him for more than three hours as he continued his trip home. During this time, her leadership contacted Ray’s first sergeant.
“The entire conversation kept going back to (his ex-girlfriend) but I kept taking him on tangents, asking how his family was, what he did over the weekend, about future plans,” she said. “He’d planned a trip with his dad to New Orleans and the east coast, so we talked about that and his car.”
Although she knew she was doing the right thing, Cap was nervous about the situation.
“You could just tell that his emotional state was like a roller coaster,” Cap said. “There would be times he’d be laughing, and then other times he was just hysterical. Every time I tried pulling him off the subject, he would (bring it) back to her somehow.”
When Ray finally arrived at his house, his grandparents, his supervisor and some security forces Airmen were waiting for him.
Ray’s leadership took him to the hospital and put him on suicide-watch for two days. The chaplain visited with him there, and when Ray found the courage to unburden himself, he began to feel better about his situation.
“I got an email from him recently, thanking me,” Cap said. “He told me, ‘My family really appreciates it, and I honestly think that if you hadn’t been there to help me, I wouldn’t be here today.’ So that shows the magnitude of how serious he was about the situation.”
No matter what the time of year, it’s always important to look out for others, especially those who may not have family with them or nearby.
“Pay attention to people’s behavior, and if you think something is even slightly wrong, just ask them,” Cap said. “Our shop is really good; some days I come into work and I just don’t want to talk to anybody, but the girl I work with in my office always asks if I’m okay.”
Knowing people are looking out for others’ welfare can be all it takes to open another’s eyes.
“Sometimes you don’t even realize you’re projecting a sad or upset attitude, but just for someone to call you out on it, it’s kind of eye-opening. You then have the opportunity to say, ‘I’m just having a bad day,’ or “Actually, I need to talk to someone.’”
For those who find themselves in a predicament they cannot figure out on their own or find themselves in need of direction, there are several options available:
Contact your supervisor, chaplain, first sergeant, mental health clinic or primary care provider.