374 AMXS lead the way for Suicide Prevention Month
By Senior Airman Matthew Gilmore, 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 25, 2018
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Their faces impossible to forget; each with a story often heard all too late. In looking at them that one last time the mind floods with the memories of the countless moments shared with a life ended all too early. It is through that reflection that their smiles and façade fade into the missed signs or unheard cries out for help. The culmination of it all is knowing that they are gone and nothing can be done to bring them back.
“The haunting feeling is remembering the days where you walked by someone who needed help and you didn’t take the time to make that difference,” said Maj. David Mueller, 374th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander at Yokota Air Base, Japan. “I will always remember the Airmen’s faces lost at my first base. I always asked them how they were doing but I didn’t press them beyond that and I wish I did.
“I’ve had to come to that painful realization for two of my fellow Airmen who committed suicide. Having been to two memorials at my first duty station, I know all too well the void felt in losing someone. Not only on a personal level but the impact it can have on an organization and its ability to accomplish the mission. I would ask myself what I could have done better. Were the resources in place to help these struggling individuals? It was a heart wrenching experience but an experience I have carried with me throughout my career.”
With September being Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Mueller makes a point to not only reflect on the Airmen lost, but on what he can do to make sure the same tragedy is not repeated.
In doing so, the 374 AMXS goes to great lengths to ensure the mental health of its Airmen throughout the year, from creating a culture of understanding and wingmanship, integrated and embedded mental health professionals within the organization, in-person mental health assessments, and crisis teams in place for emergencies, AMXS is doing its part to ensure the Airmen who put the planes in the sky can continue to soar themselves.
“Prevention is key,” said Mueller. “That is why we put such an emphasis on our culture. We strive to be a cohesive unit that looks out for one another. I always push for supervisors and co-workers to really take the time to learn about each other. The more we know about our fellow Airman, the easier it is to realize when they might be down and need that help getting back up. We stress that any Airman can be that sensor and help make that difference in picking up a struggling individual or at least work with them to seek out help from the resources available.”
Another aspect of the culture being built includes a more overall acceptance of the importance of mental health services.
“In working with AMXS we have been able to tear down a lot of boundaries and remove the stigma associated with mental health,” said Capt. Esther Williams, 374th Medical Operations Squadron suicide prevention program manager. “Talking about depression, suicide and mental illness in general has empowered the Airmen to better identify the signs in their wingmen or even in themselves and know its ok to get help.”
As an Airman who sought out help himself, Mueller knows just how beneficial and helpful the resources available can be in a time of need.
“The difference between success and failure for me personally has been making use of the same resiliency resources I ask my Airmen to use,” said Mueller. “I know just how hard it is to take on some of the challenges life can throw at you. If it wasn’t for the Chaplain and Military and Family Life Counselor, I don’t think I could have been successful at that point in time in my life. In working with them, they really helped me stop the little things that were weighing on me from snowballing into bigger things.”
To help give the Airmen a face to a name and an added level of comfort when it comes to seeking out and accepting that help, AMXS has worked to provide regular interaction between the supporting agencies and their Airmen.
“We wanted that face-to-face interaction and relationship building,” said Mueller. “That is where the integration comes into play. Our Airmen have come to know the people available to them and as a result, are more likely to make use of their services.
“We hope that comfort continues to pay dividends when it comes to doing our mental health assessments. We really put an emphasis on doing them in person just for the increased chance of someone opening up and talking about their issues. By building that level of comfort prior to the assessment, I think people will be more likely to talk openly and honestly about what they are going through.”
While AMXS is staying diligent in prevention, in the event situations turn dire and problems begin to snowball out of control, an emergency crisis team composed of mental health professionals are ready to step in at a moment’s notice.
“While we hope the crisis team never needs to be used, we are prepared and have everything in place because mental health needs to be taken seriously,” said Mueller. “We need to do what is right for our Airmen. For some time now we have been doing more with less and a lot of that burden falls on the Airmen executing the mission. We owe it to them to take care of them.”
As Mueller and AMXS are working to do their part to help tackle the issue of suicide as an organization, the power to make a difference in someone’s life rests within everyone.
“While the people with the most power to help are friends, family and co-workers,” said Williams. “At the end of the day, anyone can make that impact. If you see someone struggling, ask them about it. You never know when it just might save a life.”