Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina is taking several days off for a Resilience Tactical Pause, following the suicides of several Shaw airmen.

Air Force Col. Derek O’Malley, commander for the 20th Fighter Wing based out of Shaw, announced that a down day is slated for Aug. 30 as part of a four-day Labor Day weekend, and another down day is scheduled for Sept. 20. Likewise, a guest speaker is scheduled for Sept. 13, coupled with small groups to facilitate “authentic and meaningful dialogue,” according to O’Malley.

“I’ve directed our commanders to take a hard look at our schedules," O’Malley said in a Facebook video on Aug. 21. “No doubt there are times where our country needs us to really push it forward, demands a lot of us and our mission, but there are times also where we can really pull it back. And we need to proactively identify those times so that we can rest up and be ready for when our nation really needs us.”

The Resilience Tactical Pause was announced after Shaw airman and 2nd Lt. Christopher Rhoton, 35, committed suicide on Aug. 13. Rhoton, a prior enlisted airman who joined the Air Force in February 2003, attained the rank of master sergeant before becoming an officer in June 2018. He was the the propulsion flight commander with the 20th Component Maintenance Squadron, according to records from the Air Force Personnel Center.

Two other airmen — Staff Sgt. Justin Strickland, 26, and Senior Airman Jose Llanes, 28 — also committed suicide earlier in the year.

"I know that these are small gestures, given all that's going on in the 20th Fighter Wing, the weight of things that have happened, and all the sacrifices that you and your family make," O'Malley said in the video.

The order adds two additional days to focus on wellness beyond what the Air Force has already mandated. On Aug. 1, Air Force Chief of Staff Dave Goldfein instructed all wings to stand down for a day before Sept. 15 to address suicide prevention in light of the sharp rise in Air Force suicides in 2019.

According to a video posted on Facebook by Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright, a total of 78 airmen have committed suicide in 2019. The number represents nearly 30 more suicides than the Air Force had at the same point in the year in 2018, Wright said.

Wright said the stand down isn’t designed to be a “one-day effort to check a box.” Rather, the day is intended to foster continued conversations between airmen, command teams and others about how to support airmen.

“We can’t let this keep happening,” Wright said. “This is our problem, and we have to dedicate ourselves every single day to building strong and healthy airmen, supporting and engaging teams, and cultures of trust and respect to help keep these airmen hopeful, to give them an opportunity to thrive in this great Air Force. ... We have to get this thing turned around.”

In 2018, the Air Force also ordered a one-day safety stand down for flying and maintenance wings following a series of aircraft crashes and mishaps.

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