'Real life' Suicide Prevention: Wingmen Act to Save Life
For some service members, suicide prevention training may be just another computer-based training module that must be completed annually. But to four Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa Airmen it was literally the difference between life and death.
Master Sgt. Lloyd Evans, Technical Sgts. Kevin Jiles and Darryl Guppy, and Airman 1st Class Nelson Park were enjoying a relaxing afternoon May 27 at Moucha Island when another Airman did the unthinkable.
"[He and I] were just talking then he sprinted toward the cliff and jumped off into the ocean," said Jiles, 726th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron Security Forces Operations Support staff member.
Guppy, 726th EABS construction manager, heard the commotion, and jumped in after the member. For nearly 10 minutes Guppy fought the Airman to try to keep him afloat. Park, 726th EABS SF member, later dove in to assist.
"I got there and just jumped in," said Park. "The moment I saw Tech. Sgt. Guppy I knew he was exhausted. We both grabbed the individual's waistband while Tech. Sgt. Jiles tried to pull him out of the water."
"I just kept thinking 'I can't let this Airman die,'" Jiles said, reflecting on the moment.
Nearly 10 minutes after Park jumped in, a boat, filled with Djiboutians, arrived.
"It's a good thing the boat showed up when it did," Guppy said. "I was so tired I was thinking I might not make it back to shore myself."
Since the event, two of the Airmen were awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal. The other two were coined by Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, 3rd Air Force commander. All four agree on one thing - their training paid off.
"What the training tells us is important -- 'Don't believe the stigma;' 'Seek help;' 'You can rise from the ashes;' and 'There are people who can help,'" Jiles said. "[Suicide awareness and prevention] are at my attention now."
Camp Lemonnier Fleet and Family Support Center Clinical Counselor, Perrin Peterson, shared several factors that contribute to a person contemplating suicide.
"There are a number of variables," said Peterson. "Being [outside the continental United States] is the No. 1 stressor. On top of that, this is a deployment."
Peterson urged peers, co-workers and leaders to take a proactive approach in suicide prevention.
"Just pay attention to your people," Peterson said. "The first thing [that will change] is their behavior. Behavior helps us clue into their emotions."
According to Peterson, examine body language and facial expressions. Look out for changes from normal to an extreme in either direction, e.g. normal to sluggish or hyper active.
"When in doubt, ask, 'Are you OK?'" Peterson said. "If the person's not OK, stay with them and try to get them to seek help. If they feel like someone cares, they'll likely respond. Yes, there's a mission to complete, and the mission is critical; but it's people who complete it. We need to show compassion to those people."
If you or someone you know has or is contemplating suicide, please consider preventative help from one of these resources:
- Camp chaplains: 824-4800. - CJTF-HOA chaplains: 824-4236/5375. - FFSC clinical counselor: 824-4538 (office) / 77-709-787 (mobile). - Military & Family Life Consultant: 824-4395 (office) / 77-643-111 (mobile). - Military OneSource: 800-342-9647.