JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO —
A report released in July by the Defense Suicide Prevention Office showed that 325 active-duty members died by suicide last year, the highest number since the Department of Defense began collecting the data in 2001.
Even more striking, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that some 20 veterans commit suicide each day, accounting for 18 percent of suicide deaths in the U.S. though they only make up 8.5 percent of the adult population.
Joint Base San Antonio is bringing attention to this serious problem with a number of events during Suicide Awareness Month in September, said Gina Ramirez, JBSA-Randolph Mental Health Outreach coordinator.
“Across JBSA, we are seeing tactical pause days and stand-down days this month,” she said. “These aim to focus on building relationships, fostering resiliency and directing members toward resources when needed.”
The month’s events will also feature a community engagement activity and a presentation by an Iraq War veteran at JBSA-Randolph, and 5K Runs for Life and Resiliency Fairs at JBSA-Randolph and JBSA-Lackland.
“Randolph Rocks,” a monthlong activity sponsored by the JBSA-Randolph Community Action Team, which comprises representatives of helping agencies at the location, will familiarize the community with agencies ranging from Mental Health, Family Advocacy and the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office to the Military & Family Readiness Center, 902nd Security Forces Squadron and the Chapel Office.
Community members are encouraged to find 10 painted rocks outside helping agency buildings and take a selfie with each rock to win a prize.
“Our hope is that people will recognize where we are located and have the phone number for reference,” Ramirez said. “The prize will be given to the first person who finds 10 different rocks, takes a selfie with each rock and sends the images to the email address located under the rock.”
From noon to 1 p.m. Sept. 10 at the JBSA-Randolph Religious Activity Center, Iraq War veteran Andrew O’Brien, who overcame four major hurdles in his life by the age of 23 – a prostitute mother, war, suicide and murder – will talk about “This Crazy Journey,” including his four-day, 80-mile walk to visit his mother, sentenced to prison for murder, and forgave her for the trauma he experienced from his childhood into his adult life.
“Andrew O’Brien is a well-traveled speaker with a compelling story of childhood trauma, suicide, war and post-traumatic stress disorder,” Ramirez said. “Despite these overwhelming obstacles, his story unfolds with forgiveness, resiliency and hope.”
Also during the month, 5K Runs for Life and Resiliency Fairs are scheduled from 9-11 a.m. Sept. 21 at JBSA-Randolph’s Heritage Park and 9-11 a.m. Sept. 28 at JBSA-Lackland’s Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center. Check-in begins at 8 a.m.
Community members can register at https://www.59mdw.org/runforlife and buy T-shirts before sales end.
“This is a competitive event with age categories,” Ramirez said. “We have more than 20 different resiliency partners from local, national and base organizations who will be manning tables at the resiliency fair.”
Suicide is a serious issue among service members, veterans and their families that must be addressed more than once a year, Ramirez said.
“It is human nature to want to be a valued member of a social circle, to have friends and family to love and to be loved by,” she said. “And that is why the single most effective and immediate way that military units can reduce the rate of suicide is simply by investing meaningful time within their work teams. Every member in the work place must feel valued. When we feel like a valuable member of the team, we not only feel good on the inside, but we also feel a sense of camaraderie and commitment to each other; we don’t want to let our coworkers down. This is a healthy work environment to be a member of and one that we should all strive to achieve.”
Suicide prevention really comes down to one’s life as it relates to the four pillars of the Comprehensive Airman Fitness Model, Ramirez said.
“Those four pillars are physical, mental, spiritual and social,” she said. “It is more about nurturing the protective factors of good health and building those up so that when the inevitable storms of life approach, the person is ready and capable of handling it.”