MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --
The men and women of the South Carolina Air National Guard took a knee on Saturday of December drill to focus on resiliency and caring for each other.
U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein ordered all wings across the Air Force to stand down for a day and focus on suicide prevention and resiliency after an increase of suicides in the Air Force, the SCANG held theirs in conjunction with an afternoon of family time.
Goldfein did not instruct wings on how to conduct their training, but rather urged them to tailor it to the wing’s individual needs. The SCANG broke from normal weekend activities to concentrate on resiliency, actively listening to others and ensure Airmen know where to get the resources they need.
“This is not a one-day event,” Col. Akshai Gandhi, 169th Fighter Wing commander, said. “It’s intended to continue through your careers here at McEntire and into your life.”
Gandhi implored Airmen at McEntire to look out for one another and reminded Airmen who believe that seeking help will hurt their career, “that is 100 percent wrong,” Gandhi said. “My message to you is to let us help you. We have invested heavily in the Airmen you are today and have a tangible interest in helping you get better and back to work, not pushing you out.”
Airmen from across the wing assembled in the hangar to hear from speakers, which included Gandhi, Chief Master Sgt. Dayne Peterson, command chief for the 169FW, and Master Sgt. Carl Clegg, first sergeant for the 169th Mission Support Group, who told a personal story of vulnerability and resilience. They also witnessed a reenactment of a real suicide conversation between Maj. Christina Pittman, wing chaplain and Master Sgt. Mylin Jarrett, weapons section chief for the 169th Maintenance Squadron.
“There were two points I wanted to get across to the Swamp Fox today, talk and listen” said Clegg. “If you are struggling with something, ask for help early; don’t let it spiral out of control. Also, actively listen to the things your fellow Airmen are saying; there may be a missed cry for help if you’re not paying attention.”
Following the wing assembly, Clegg asked the Airmen to break up by ranks and pair up to ask each other a series of 20 questions ranging from family and military service history to what they would tell someone who is thinking of committing suicide. This exercise was to give the Airmen active listening experience—focusing solely on the words coming out of another human being’s mouth.
“Too often, people who attempt to take their own lives feel alienated from others and that no one cares,” said Clegg. “Hopefully today, there’s an Airman in need who met another Airman who cares.”
Clegg’s final remarks to the assembly wrapped up with this hopeful statement: “Stopping 22 vets a day from killing themselves may seem like an impossible task, but with the impossible as our goal, we’ll be amazed at what is possible.”