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The Most Important Step

In 2015, 275 military members took their own lives. A helping hand from a friend can make a huge difference in someones life. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Connor J. Marth)

In 2015, 275 military members took their own lives. A helping hand from a friend can make a huge difference in someones life. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Connor J. Marth/Released)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Suicide is a prevalent problem in the military. In 2015, 275 military members took their own lives.

Those deaths could have been prevented if they felt that they had a person on their team, and guidance.

We are constantly told we need a wingman, but what does that actually mean to us? Your wingman is a person who looks out for you, especially in tough situations. Being a wingman means being a good listener and a voice of reason.

As a wingman we have a responsibility to our peers. When flying, the lead pilot can look around from his perspective, and believe he is safe. But the wingman can see from a slightly different perspective, and can spot the danger and lead the pair to safety. Not everyone flies planes in the military but we all have to steer through life. Sometimes we are steering and all we see is trouble. You look all around the sky and as far as the eye can see it appears there is no way out. Your wingman can see the way to go and help guide you to victory. So how can we lead our brothers and sisters who are struggling to victory as wingmen?

Year after year we have suicide prevention training. We watch videos, talk through scenarios and discuss how to spot signs of our peers struggling. We are taught preventative measures, and to ‘ask, care, and escort’. But what does that really mean? Being a wingman is more than just correcting someone when they are not in regulations.

“Have an attitude of ‘Let me help you’,” said Scott, a member of the United States Air Force. “Ask ‘How can I help you accomplish the mission?”

The next step is to care. If someone is at a breaking point in their life, they are already in a tough spot.

“It’s important not to be judgmental,” Scott said. “They need a helping hand, and a listening ear.”

Another part of caring is to simply listen. Don’t think about what you are going to say afterwards. Try and repeat back what they said to you. It shows you are listening and if there is miscommunication it can easily be clarified.

“It’s really important to empathize,” Scott said. “Embrace the suck with them. Don’t try to one-up them and say ‘Oh I know how you feel’ because you don’t. But it’s okay to say ‘I understand that must suck’ and embrace the suck with them.”

The last step is to escort. When you see someone needs help it is important to call authorities and not leave their side until you can get them into helping hands.

“If someone is suicidal you need to honor their threat,” Scott said. “That step of suicide prevention is really important.”

“I actually ended up preventing someone from preventing suicide. They picked up a weapon and I disarmed them. I was standing right there and I was able to disarm him and restrain him until the authorities could arrive,” Scott said.

Oftentimes when people are suicidal, you have to realize what they are dealing with is very real.

Usually they are dealing with something major, like a divorce, having financial problems or religious issues. In their mind, their problem is so big that it seems that there is no way out. Scott explained that it’s very important to impress on them that the issue is not as big as it seems.

“There’s a concept of change for humans,” Scott said. “If you think about it, humans are changing from the day they are born until the day that they die. Humans are afraid of change when they really don’t need to be.”

In life, we all go through different trials and tribulations. But that doesn’t mean your life is over.

“You are going to change, and you will make it through,” said Scott.

“I think 99 percent of humans underestimate how strong they actually are,” said Scott.

“People think more of you, more often than you will ever know,” said Scott. “They might not be calling you, texting you, they may not even be on your Facebook. But people are thinking of you and they think of you more highly than you will ever know.”

What should being a wingman mean to us?

We have an advantage as wingmen because we can see out of different lenses than our peers can. Those different lenses enable us to ask each other if we are struggling, genuinely care, and make it our duty to ensure our wingman can get help if they need it.

Our challenge as military members, and siblings in arms is to be that positive person on someone’s team, so they don’t feel they have to go through life’s biggest challenges alone.