Suicides, which number 273 across the active-duty military so far this year, are an issue "I'm really worried about this one, too. This is one that we all need to be worried about," Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said Tuesday in a town hall meeting with airmen.
She outlined three initiatives the service is undertaking to prevent such deaths:
- "We're going to try to do a better job of screening some of your younger airmen, at the tech school level and try to identify people who seem to be having difficulties ... in problem solving perhaps, coping and try to put a little bit more help and assistance for some of those airmen."
- "On the medical front we are looking to offer more full-up medical screening for those who actually come to us with certain problems and tell us they need help. We're going to give them a more complete medical screening and medical support service."
- "We will be building up what we call prevention specialists at bases around the country and the job of the prevention specialists will be to try to pull together the various helping resources and streamline some of the training programs that are out there because what we've realized is that we have sexual assault training, we have suicide prevention training, we have resilience training ... but there is overlap.
"So one of the jobs of the prevention specialist will be to try and pull all of these assets and training programs together and streamlined with the objective of it being better training that more hits the mark, that more addresses the challenges we all face."
Gen. John Hyten, head of Air Force Space Command, in a speech Tuesday, said the 273rd suicide occurred last weekend, at Buckley Air Force Base, a Space Command Base in Colorado.
"That breaks my heart," he said, calling for more attention to the issue from military leaders.
Given the statistics, "whatever we have been doing is certainly not enough and we need to refocus and kick it up a notch and look for new and different ways to approach it," James said.
She also told the airmen, gathered at the Defense Media Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland, to watch out for each other.
"As we come up on the holidays which can be tough times, we all need to redouble our efforts to be good wingmen for one another and watch our buddies and watch our colleagues in the unit and if you see something, take some action," she said. "Go and give somebody a kind word, follow up and if you feel you cant address something yourself, seek out somebody who can provide some help because there are a lot of helping resources available."