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Suicide prevention: The Wingman

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Brandon Valle
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
Editors note: this is the first article in a series of stories focusing on suicide prevention.

Suicide prevention is a high priority in the Department of Defense, focusing on the numerous resources available to those with suicidal thoughts. What we sometimes fail to discuss is how we can be there for others and how we can use our core values to help our wingman.

We need to incorporate the wingman mentality as a way that we respond to and work with others. When we see people who are showing signs of distress - whether it's from a recent break up or family life - we need to be able to step in and get them the help they need.

Throughout our Air Force careers, we are taught to live by the core values of integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. We learn to apply these concepts in our daily life. The core values are key in maintaining a professional and respectable Air Force.

Many of us know the core values well and apply them to the decisions we make for ourselves, but we may fail to apply them to the idea of being a wingman to others.

Being a wingman to your Air Force brothers and sisters is an unwritten core value. We learn to be wingmen during basic military training, where we have to follow the rule to never be without our wingman. We utilize the concept as a way to learn how to work as a team and accomplish tasks together, creating a stronger unity within the Air Force.

Once we leave BMT, many forget to continue that concept. Instead of working together and maintaining the strong team bond, Airmen sometimes start to look out for themselves and only place value in their own decisions.

Before I was in the Air Force, I learned how being a wingman to a friend can save their life. As a freshman in high school, I knew many people from many different walks of life. With friends scattered among various groups, it was difficult for me to learn how to recognize signs that they may have been giving.

Late one night, I had called my friend to talk to her. Speaking with her, I could feel that something was wrong in the way she spoke. She seemed distant, as if she had been crying. 

We spoke for over an hour and as the conversation went on, she seemed to return to her normal self and her voice seemed to get some strength. We said our goodbyes, and I returned to whatever I was doing.

About a month later my friend confided in me that the phone call with me had saved her life. She had said that after a really long and difficult day, she had felt like she wanted to give up. She had been sitting there getting ready to end her life when I called. She wasn't expecting to be swayed away from her decision, but that simple conversation made her believe that she could make it through.

Although I hadn't been paying attention during the day and didn't notice anything off with her, I still became a wingman when I made the call. I began checking in with friends more often, making sure to hang out with people more and making sure to call those who I haven't talked to in a while.

I learned that it takes a simple act to change the lives of others. Something as small as a simple "hello" can help turn someone's day around. A small conversation or a few minutes of your day has a major impact with someone who felt their life had no purpose.

Being a wingman and recognizing if a coworker or a friend is having an issue can help. Approaching them and talking about their problems and helping them contact the appropriate resources can save their life.

Remember to be a wingman each and every day. Our Air Force depends on each and everyone of us to be there for each other. Be there as a friend for those around you, and they will be there for support when you need it.