Resilience tactical pause: As suicide rates climb, the Air Force takes time to focus on connectedness

  • Published
  • By Bo Joyner

With the Air Force and the Air Force Reserve facing an increase in the number of suicides, senior leaders directed a resilience tactical pause – a time for all Airmen (military and civilian) to gather with their coworkers and focus on connectedness and resilience.

 “My goal is to build healthy Airmen – Airmen who are mentally, psychologically, physically and spiritually fit,” said Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee, Air Force Reserve Command commander and chief of the Air Force Reserve. “We’ve gotten really good at reacting when an Airman is in trouble. We must get good at being proactive by building Airmen who are resilient enough to avoid situations where things go wrong.”

In the first nine months of 2019, the Air Force Reserve lost 13 Citizen Airmen to suicide.

“We have to do a better job of connecting with our people and letting them know how valued they are. People who feel valued don’t hurt themselves,” Scobee said.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein directed the resilience tactical pause in early August in response to a sharp spike in the number of suicides Air Force-wide this year. Through July 29, there were 78 suspected Total Force suicide deaths in calendar year 2019, compared to 51 on the same date in 2018.

Since most Reservists only meet with their fellow Airmen one weekend a month, Scobee received approval from Goldfein for the Reserve to have until the end of 2019 to complete the tactical pause directive.

This gives Reserve units four unit training assemblies, or eight drill days, to execute their unit-specific program. It also allows individual mobilization augmentees the opportunity to connect with their organizations or the Readiness and Integration Organization headquarters to participate in the tactical pause events. However, the AFRC commander encouraged units to hold their tactical pause as quickly as they can.

“We have to get after this problem as soon as possible,” he said. “By setting aside time, we will be able to connect and engage with our Reserve Citizen Airmen – military and civilian – on a more interpersonal level and really get to the heart of taking care of our Airmen and each other.”

Chief Master Sgt. Timothy White, AFRC’s command chief master sergeant, said he hopes the tactical pause will help shed light on a problem unique to the Reserve component.

“The tyranny of distance and time are tough problems for our command teams,” White said. “In 10 of the first11 suicides in the Reserve this year, the member was not in an active-duty status and one of our losses was from the Reserve’s civilian population.”

 Scobee expanded on this challenge.

“How do I ensure my Airmen know they are always my Airmen? We do not care what status they are in. They are always part of our family and we always ensure resources are available to take care of an Airman in distress.”

“We lose more Airmen to suicide than any other single enemy … even more than combat,” said Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright. “We can’t let this keep happening. This is our problem and we have to dedicate ourselves every single day to building strong and healthy Airmen.”

Brande Newsome, AFRC’s Community Support Program manager, said her team created tools and resources to help organizations plan their tactical pause. However, she encourages Reserve squadrons and units to personalize their events to address the needs of the local population.

“We aren’t dictating exactly what your tactical pause should look like because this isn’t just some box that has to be checked,” she said. “This is the first step in opening up a dialogue and creating an environment where people feel free to talk about the things in life they are struggling with and seek help if they need it.”

Wright encouraged command teams to keep one thought in mind as they planned their resilience tactical pause. “Make every single Airman count every single day,” he said. “Someone right now in your organization is struggling. Someone in your organization is suffering from post-traumatic stress or depression. Someone in your organization is feeling hopeless and they may be thinking suicide is the answer. Give them better options. Let’s lead them to a better answer.”

“General Scobee and I want to hear your story of resilience,” White added. “We encourage you to be authentic and share your truth so other Airmen who are struggling may be more willing to connect with you and seek help.”

Valuable resources are available on the Air Force resilience home page, Resilience tactical pause resources and videos are available on the HQ AFRC Community Programs share point site and the Defense Visual Information Distribution site: Search for AFRC Resilient Tactical Pause (RTP) - Share Your Truth.   #ReserveResilient