JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas –
Joint Base San Antonio’s commander and command chief picked up their monthly Tough Conversations, open discussions about important topics, after a break due to the change of command. This session, held Aug. 16, focused on suicide prevention and awareness.
“The leadership in the Air Force is trying to help our force move past the stigma sometimes attached to help-seeking behavior, but that message doesn’t seem to resonate,” said Brig. Gen. Russell D. Driggers, 502nd Air Base Wing and JBSA commander, during his opening remarks to the nearly dozen JBSA military and civilian members who participated in the discussion.
Chief Master Sgt. Casy D. Boomershine, 502nd Air Base Wing and JBSA command chief, began with a story about a friend who opened up to her about his thoughts of suicide, leaving her concerned that those types of thoughts can happen to anyone.
“What would be the trigger to put you there?” she said. “It really could be you.”
She said an important part of helping those in need is to learn how to care for others without the fear of saying the wrong thing is keeping you from speaking.
“We have to teach people to have those conversations and not be afraid,” she said.
One attendee, a civilian employee and veteran, shared that in the past he felt like he had a wheelbarrow, with sticks being added all the time. After years of adding sticks, he was expected to lift it. He couldn’t.
“It was hard transitioning out of the military,” he said. “I lost my identity.”
He also had people close to him become ill.
“It’s all just things people deal with. It just happened all at once,” he said. “Resiliency is a hard thing to get back once you are losing it.”
But, he said, sometimes folks will not accept help.
“They have to hit rock bottom,” he said. “They have to decide.”
The employee’s advice to the leaders present was, “If people come first, do it first.”
He asked that leadership not let hectic schedules and deadlines get in the way of people’s well-being.
He also suggested individuals at JBSA work centers get to know each other and become familiar with the outlets and resources available to help.
“Military OneSource - you can go see counselors,” he said. “Sometimes that’s all you need. Sometimes you need someone to listen to you. If that doesn’t help, there is higher care. The stigma has gone away a lot, from what I’ve seen.”
Driggers also discussed resources on JBSA for those who need help coping with any aspect of their life, noting the Vogel Resiliency Center and its many programs.
There was also discussion on what supervisors can do to boost unit cohesion.
“It only takes that one person to make things happen,” said another civilian attendee.
“Sometimes we wait for other people. Let’s get together and make it happen, so we are there for each other,” she said.
Suggestions for unit activities included informal meetings, having a barbeque or picnic, or a few minutes of visiting and sharing snacks in the office.
Getting to know the people you work with every day is an important part of maintaining resiliency and helping those in need of additional support.
“You absolutely have to know your people,” the Chief said. “Why would you share something personal if we don’t have a personal relationship?”
A military member present discussed her former commander and how he would come to work areas asking people, “How can I take care of you?” She said that small gestures made a difference.
“Frontline supervisors can also have a big impact on members’ well-being,” Driggers said, “and it is important they are trained well and prepared for the job of being there for their coworkers."
The commander also encouraged those in attendance to balance the digital environment with in-person communication when possible.
“We lost something thanks to COVID-19,” he said. “We lost the value that we all inherently place on interpersonal communication.
“We want folks to get to know each other. Let others know you care. Build connections,” he said. “It’s easy to get pulled into busy times. Take the time to build connections and relationships.
“It’s OK to take a step away to take care of each other,” he said. “It’s OK to take the time to invest in each other.”
Several members present emphasized the reason they like working for the military is the comradery, culture and caring atmosphere.
“We need to watch each other’s back,” someone added. “We need each other. We are one big family.”
Sometimes people who are having a tough time just need to be seen and heard, according to one of the members present.
Saying to others, “I see you,” might be all that is needed by those working around you, she said. “How is your day? I am here, and I see you.”
Anyone having thoughts of harming themself can get help through a number of channels: a supervisor; a friend; a chaplain; Military OneSource; the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, dial 988; or the nearest medical treatment facility.