JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
Signs proclaiming “We Care” greeted motorists as they entered the gates of Joint Base San Antonio installations on an unseasonably cool Sept. 10 morning.
Many of those motorists honked their horns in beautifully noisy response.
The show of support for the JBSA community – especially its young military members and veterans – came on World Suicide Prevention Day and was one of the highlights of this year’s Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month.
“Many people who suicide think that they are a burden on others or feel that others don’t care,” said Aaron Moffett, JBSA-Randolph community support coordinator. “We want to show our fellow Airmen, their families and the staff that we care.”
Jennifer Vann, JBSA-Lackland We Care event coordinator, said the event began last year to bring awareness to suicide prevention, but had an even greater impact this year.
“This year, it’s brought a bigger impact because we’re secluded because of COVID,” Vann said. “It’s showing to be a bigger impact for people because we’ve come out in greater numbers. I think people this year needed this even more.”
The signs, she said, are like “a handshake, a hug, opening the door for someone, just a simple gesture.”
Vann, whose husband is Lt. Col. Ray Vann Jr., 323rd Training Squadron commander, said, “We’re hearing the horns honking, we’re seeing the waving, we’re seeing the smiling, windows are coming down, we’re getting the thumbs-up, so we’re definitely seeing that impact.”
Suicide is a serious public health issue in the United States that affects nearly every age group, and its impact on active-duty members and veterans is even more pronounced.
The active duty military’s rate of nearly 25 suicides per 100,000 is higher than the overall U.S. rate of 18 suicides per 100,000 in military-age adults, according to the Department of Defense. In addition, approximately 17 veterans die by suicide every day, according to 2019 data from the National Veterans Suicide Prevention Annual Report.
We Care Day and other events at JBSA this month are raising awareness of this public health crisis and letting service members and veterans know that the community cares and provides the help they need to overcome their feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
An event that normally brings the JBSA community together at JBSA-Lackland’s Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center and JBSA-Randolph’s Heritage Park is going virtual this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, said Gina Ramirez, JBSA-Randolph Mental Health Outreach coordinator.
“This year we have created a Facebook group for the 59th Medical Wing 5K Run for Life to allow participants the opportunity to connect with each other from anywhere around the globe,” she said. “The group also offers support to those members who might be at risk by providing helpful resources.”
Participants in the Run for Life will be able to complete their 5K walk or run at any time during the month and post their pictures in the Facebook group. National, local, and base agencies are part of the group and will be posting their resources throughout the month.
“It’s another way for our members and their families to feel connected during this difficult time,” Ramirez said. “It’s a space to honor loved ones lost and an opportunity to support those who may be at risk.”
Also scheduled this month is a presentation Sept. 16 by retired Master Sgt. Ashley Dunning, an Air Force Wounded Warrior ambassador who will speak virtually to the military community about resilience and recovery. For webinar login information, call 210-652-2448.
Another virtual activity, Virtual Meditation Mondays, which happens every Monday of the month, promotes resiliency by providing participants with 20 minutes of breathing calmly in the middle of the day. Call 210-652-2448 for login details.
Although there is a special focus on suicide prevention during September, 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 be loved by,” she said. “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.”
It is important for every member in the workplace to feel valued, Ramirez said.
“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,” she said. “This is a healthy work environment to be a member of and one that we should all strive to achieve.”
“We Care” is a special emphasis for the Randolph Community Action Team, which is working with the dorm council to develop regularly occurring resiliency events, Moffett said.
“Our major concern, especially with the dorm Airmen, is that everyone is socially distancing and is unable to socially connect,” he said. “They may be feeling alone so we want to show them that they are not alone, that they matter and that we care about them. Our theme this year is ‘Connect to Protect,’ so we want to make sure we are connecting with our Airmen.”
During these difficult times, JBSA mental and behavioral health clinics continue to be fully operational with mostly telehealth appointments, Ramirez said.
For any questions or concerns, call the Brooke Army Medical Center Department of Behavioral Health at 210-916-1600 at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, the Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center at 210-292-7361 or the JBSA-Randolph Mental Health Clinic at 210-652-2448.
Another resource, the Veterans and Military Crisis Line, is available at 1-800-273-8255. Chat online at www.veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/chat or send a text message to 838255.
The “We Care” message is a meaningful one, Vann said.
“It means you’re reaching out to those people who think there’s no one there,” she said. “There will always be someone there and there will always be someone to listen, someone to be a friend.
“You sometimes move to a location and you think you’re there alone because you may live somewhere where you may not have family around – you may not have that connection – but there is always someone around to listen.”