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NEWS | Dec. 23, 2021

Tough Conversation: Suicide, mental health awareness

By Olivia Mendoza Sencalar 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Brig. Gen. Caroline M. Miller, the 502d Air Base Wing and Joint Base San Antonio commander, and Command Chief Master Sgt. Casy Boomershine hosted their “Tough Conversation” forum Dec. 14, 2021, where they discussed suicide awareness and mental health issues with 12 JBSA-Randolph members.  

One member shared a recent experience with losing a friend to suicide. Not knowing how to deal with this loss, or with death in general, the member considered suicide as well.

After being told by the flight chief and supervisor to “suck it up”, the member reached out to a family member for help to avoid the social stigma of seeking help as a sign of weakness.

“Some supervisors think work is everything and I get it, I really do, but there is a line that we need to understand,” Miller said. “We really need to take care of our people by understanding and finding trust, so they can have confidence in sharing what they are feeling and what we can do to get them the right resources to help.”

One attendee added how they feel it’s necessary to build meaningful relationships.

“We need to advocate for others. We need to say more than hello and ask how they are doing or how are they feeling; a simple gesture goes a long way.”  

The conversation moved to resources available through Military OneSource (militaryonesource.mil) and how it offers a number of ways to better manage mental health via weekly meetings and homework geared toward self-improvement.

Another attendee spoke about the 360 Veterans’ Association (360va.org), where Department of Defense civilians and military can sign up for a week-long, science-based leadership course that provides comprehensive, holistic training in personal health, wellness and resiliency. 

Miller let the group know the 502nd ABW and U.S. Army North have partnered to provide the course for military members and DOD civilians along with their spouses.

“Every single person who has attended the 360 VA Leadership course, has come out and said everything they learned was a bonus.” 

As the conversation moved around the room, the group agreed on the same thing: work-life balance is a challenge.  

The pandemic added stress due to less manpower, picking up additional duties, and working both early and late hours. This only increased issues with home life, relationships, finances, and general mental health issues.

Miller offered words of wisdom gathered from her career.

“When you are with your kid, spouse or friend, be with them at that moment. Enjoy the time that you can be there with them,” Miller said. “Work will always be there whether you can get to it or not. Your mental health is the most important, so take care of yourself.”  

The command team concluded the discussion by encouraging the group to take time off when they become overwhelmed in order to recharge their mental health. They also emphasized checking in with others and genuinely letting them know you are there to listen and/or to talk. 

“Don’t be the person who steps back, be the person who steps in that could make a big difference in that person’s life,” Boomershine said. “We don’t know what that person might be going through, but a little compassion and an ear go a long way to help them.” 

The “Tough Conversation” roundtable is a monthly series focused on important, challenging and impactful topics that affect the Air Force and Department of Defense. This series fosters an open and candid dialogue between 502nd ABW senior leaders, service members and civilians of all ranks and backgrounds.