SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. — (This feature is part of the “Through Airmen’s Eyes” series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)
An Airman who noticed the suicidal signs of a friend reported the problem and helped save his friend’s life.
Airman 1st Class Albert Chang, 375th Comptroller Squadron, not only got his friend and fellow service member the help he needed, but also served as a wingman to actively be involved with his friend’s life when he started noticing his friend’s unusual behavior.
“We first met in the courtyard back in the dorms,” said Chang. “We became good friends within the first year of knowing one another.”
When they met, that Airman was always known to be the comedian of the group.
“He was always making the most absurd, obnoxious jokes,” Chang said. “It always caught you off-guard and always made you laugh.”
In May 2012, the Airman was notified that he would face an administrative discharge because of the Date of Service rollback.
“When he first broke the news to me, he was pretty nonchalant about it,” Chang said. “He seemed as though he was alright with it. He was talking about how he had jobs back home and how everything would be fine, but he had a lot on his plate.”
Chang helped him prepare for his move out of the Air Force as much as possible, as well as being there for him as a friend.
“One night I was helping him clean, it was just the two of us and he just broke down and started crying,” Chang said. “I’d never seen him like that.
“He was always smiling and making jokes. I didn’t know what else to do, I just hugged him,” he continued. “That calmed him down a little bit.”
Showing the distraught Airman that someone cared, enabled him to open up and allowed Chang to see what was really on his mind.
“He told me that his parents actually kicked him out of their house; he joined the Air Force because of it,” he said. “He kept reiterating how disappointed his parents were going to be. That’s when I first noticed that this was actually a big deal to him.”
After seeing what his friend was going through, Chang decided to dedicate more of his time for his well-being.
“The more time I spent with him, the more I noticed,” he said. “He would crack a joke every once in a while, but I definitely noticed a change in his demeanor. He became quieter and when he did talk it was very under-spoken.
“A couple of days had passed; we were hanging out in a friend’s room,” Chang continued. “I’m not sure if anyone else heard it, but he said ‘God, I just want it to end. I just want it all to end.’”
“I’ve never encountered anything like this before, so realistically, I didn’t know the signs,” he said.
Feeling that his friend’s condition was getting worse, Chang decided to take his efforts even further.
“During his last week, he didn’t have to go into work, so, during my lunch breaks, I would take him out for a bite to eat and just talk to him. As small as that seems, I feel that it helped,” he said. “The more time I spent with him, the more I tried to prepare myself, but I didn’t know what to do. I could just talk to him, but I felt that that was inappropriate with his separation right around the corner.”
The closer the separation date came, more and more signs followed. Chang realized he couldn’t just stand by much longer.
Two days before his friend was supposed to leave, Chang went to the Airman’s dorm and found all of his things outside his room. Throughout the day, the unstable Airman had been giving his stuff away.
“At this point it had become blatantly obvious that I had to do something,” he said. “I have been through suicide awareness training and these were the signs that we needed to look out for. It was just crazy that it was happening in real life.
“He said he just didn’t care anymore,” Chang continued. “The trigger for me was when he said he couldn’t sleep anymore, because he stayed up thinking about how he just wanted everything to end. We went out to the courtyard with two other friends, then I asked them keep an eye on him while I take care of something.”
Chang then left to call his first sergeant after he overcame the fear of what his actions could do.
“I was a bit worried to be honest, because of the negative stigma of calling the authorities on a friend,” he said. “I’m sure that’s a big barrier in a lot of people, so I was a bit hesitant at first.”
Approximately five minutes after the call, the Airman’s first sergeant and security forces arrived to take care of him.
“That was the last I saw of him for two days,” he said. “I don’t know why, but I felt bad. I felt guilty that he had to be watched because of me.”
“I was walking out of the Shoppette when I saw him walk in with his supervisor,” he added. “The very second I saw his face, I thought he was going to be mad, but when he saw me, a huge smile came across his face. Then he came up to me and gave me a really tight hug. I’ll never forget what he said to me. He said, ‘Thank you. I was in a really dark place in my life.’ I didn’t know what to say to that.”
Chang and his friend still keep in contact even though he is no longer in the military.
“I don’t feel like I did anything special,” he said. “I feel like if I was the guy exhibiting suicidal tendencies, someone would help me. I was just helping a friend.
“It doesn’t take much to help someone out,” Chang added. “Even the smallest action could save a life, but you will never know unless you try.”