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AMC Commander directs wingman stand down

  • Published
  • By Ed Shannon
  • Air Mobility Command Public Affairs
Most of us have been there at some point. We've faced overwhelming issues - crises that seemed would never end. To whom did you turn during those times? Was it a family member, a friend or a co-worker?

Recent tragic events have highlighted that we as Airmen must become more involved with each other on a personal level. We need to build connections as an Air Force family to offer better support to each other.

To help build those connections, AMC will pause operations on May 10 to participate in a "Wingman Stand Down," an event specifically and personally designed to "stand up" for the command's most valuable asset -- its Airmen.

AMC officials said the event is designed to have an immediate impact on reversing the rising trend of lost lives due to suicide and motor vehicle mishaps and a long term legacy, positively affecting every AMC Airman in a personal way.

Gen. Raymond E. Johns Jr., AMC commander, directed the stand down of AMC units in support of the Chief of Staff of the Air Force's announcement of a "Wingman Stand Down."

"The rising numbers of lost lives in the Air Force due to suicide and motor vehicle accidents is beyond alarming," General Johns said in a memorandum to all AMC commanders, April 26. "As a result, we need to pause and reflect on ways we can reduce this needless loss of life."

Within this calendar year alone, the Air Force has lost 19 Airmen to suicide, five of which were in AMC. In addition, 13 Airmen's lives have been claimed by motor vehicle accidents since October 2009, and four have been from AMC.

During the stand down, all personnel will be asked to participate in a five-hour program that includes an interactive video, small group discussion, and leadership participation.

"This is not a lecture day for Airmen," General Johns said. "Instead, it is designed to emphasize awareness, accountability, communication and team building through interactive participation in small groups."

The general told his commanders the event is about relationships and identified the work of commanders as 'a family business.' It's more than about communication; it's an effort to 'connect' with Airmen.

In addition to calling attention to the rise in loss of lives, Wingman Stand Down will reenergize the Wingman concept as the foundation approach to suicide prevention and unit safety.

The Wingman concept is more than an event; it is a culture of Airmen taking care of Airmen 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

"We must be vigilant for killers both in and out of combat, including suicide and private motor vehicle mishaps," said AMC officials in the Concept of Operations for the Wingman Stand Down event. "Air Force Wingmen look out for each other, and have the personal strength to confront Wingmen in trouble and to make responsible decisions that keep each other safe and healthy."

AMC Mental Health Consultant (Lt. Col.) John Jorgensen said the stand down approach will allow for the building of a stronger network of support for Airmen and a stronger Air Force community.

"Two-thirds of suicide attempts this year involve people who have never interacted with mental health or sought other types of support available to them," Colonel Jorgensen said. "That's why being a wingman is so vital. Support has to come from the friend or co-worker level because they are the people who know where and why people are struggling."

Colonel Jorgensen said many people often face a difficult decision as a Wingman. They want to be the supportive, 'cool' friend and fear their struggling friend might react negatively if they suggest talking to Mental Health or the Chaplain. What they don't realize is mental health workers, chaplains and other support professionals can offer so much support if they are involved up front.

"If people facing stressful issues would take advantage of Mental Health support early, whatever the problem, we have much greater chances of getting them the right tools, in time, to avert an overwhelming crisis or tragic event," he said.

Chaplains also offer specialized tools for people to work through issues that cause stress and anxiety, according to AMC Command Chaplain (Col.) Conrado Navarro, who described the Wingman Stand Down as "a brilliant way" to reach all Airmen on an issue that affects everybody.

"The event goes beyond simple training," the chaplain said. "It's saying we all depend on one another - we're interdependent. Every Airman is a wingman to somebody in their life."

Chaplain Navarro said spirituality is one of the pillars in the Comprehensive Airman Fitness program, but spirituality doesn't necessarily mean faith.

"As humans, we are all spiritual because we are all beings," he said. "Whatever gives you meaning -that's spirituality. Chaplains are there to cultivate the spirituality, whether or not the spirituality is tied to faith," he said.

The most important thing a Wingman can do, according to the chaplain, is be available.

"Sometimes all a person needs is someone to simply listen - not to give a solution - but to listen and to sympathize," he said.

While listening to a person can provide tremendous support to a person facing difficult issues, inattentiveness by drivers is one of the common reasons that private motor vehicle mishaps accounted for 47 deaths Air Force wide in 2009. Reckless behavior, excessive speed and alcohol are other reasons cited by AMC Safety officials.

According to Mark Erpelding, AMC Ground Safety chief, traffic mishaps are the number one cause of fatalities Air Force wide.

"During the last three months of 2009, AMC lost four Airmen in motor vehicle accidents," Mr. Erpelding said. "Contributing factors in each incident included excessive speed, alcohol, and failure to negotiate a curve."

The stand down will provide the opportunity for Airmen to communicate with each other about private motor vehicle safety a couple of weeks ahead of the Critical Days of Summer campaign.

But more than just communicating, General Johns wants the day to be about connecting.
"Please know each of you possess an essential piece to the solution - a solution that is not dependent on rank or position," he said. "That said, it is our hope that by giving you this time you may discover new ways to look after each other, and perhaps, even save a life."

And by standing down to build those connections, AMC will 'stand up' for its Airmen.