By Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Longfellow | 21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — In the beginning of August, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein ordered all wings to stand down for a day and focus on resiliency and suicide prevention due to the alarming increase of suicide rates in the U.S. Air Force in 2019.
Eighty-nine Air Force Total Force Airmen had taken their own lives this year.
Two Airmen from the 21st Operational Medical Readiness Squadron dental lab, successfully responded to a friend from another Air Force base with suicidal thoughts.
August 7, 2019 was a normal day for Airman 1st Class Brittany Wright. She was planning on going to bed early that night when she answered a phone call from a friend she met in technical school.
“It wasn’t unusual he was calling to talk,” Wright said. “But after about an hour he said something I never thought I would ever hear.”
Wright said she was shocked to hear her friend say that he didn’t want to live anymore.
She knew she had to do something, and do it quickly. While still talking on the phone with her friend, she messaged her co-worker and friend for help at 8:54 p.m.
“I didn’t know exactly what to do either,” said Duffus. “I didn’t know who he was or who I should call but I picked up the phone and got in contact with my first sergeant.”
Duffus immediately called her first sergeant and worked with Wright to get as many details as possible about the Airman. She was able to provide Master Sgt. Jonathan Eckley, 21st Medical Group first sergeant, with the Airman’s name and career field to speed up the process of getting in touch with the Airman’s first sergeant through the base’s command post.
To explain how both the Airmen and first sergeant were feeling, Eckley gave the analogy of a duck swimming on a pond.
“Calm on the surface, but paddling like crazy below,” Eckley said. “This was new to all of us, but we all have been through training to get the help this Airman needed.”
Eckley was able to get in contact with the endangered Airman’s first sergeant within minutes.
The Airman’s first sergeant immediately responded and went to the Airman’s dorm room with his supervisor and security forces members. During this time, Wright was able to keep her friend talking on the phone to prevent him from having a chance to take his own life. His first sergeant and the defenders knocked on his door at 9:31 p.m.
“The Air Force focuses on resiliency more and more each year,” Eckley said. “We have produced effective training several times a year. Wright and Duffus are a strong example of this. The training they receive in their short time in the service was so ingrained in themselves they didn’t even realize they were using the provided training.”
Without even realizing it, Wright and Duffus used ACE to help Wright’s friend. ACE — ask, care, escort — is a resiliency tool used to prevent and respond to the crisis of suicide. Wright specifically asked her friend if he was going to hurt himself. She was able to continue to keep him talking on the phone while she enlisted help to get to him. Although she herself wasn’t able to escort him, she got the help he needed to be escorted properly.
General John W. “Jay” Raymond, Air Force Space Command and Joint Force Space Component commander, presented Wright and Duffus the Air Force Achievement Medal. It is awarded to Air Force personnel for outstanding achievement or meritorious service rendered specifically on behalf of the Air Force.
Both Airmen were also asked to attend the Air Force Association National Convention in Washington, D.C. in September. The convention connects brave Airmen who commit their lives to protect the greater good of the United States. It promotes a dominant Air Force and a strong national defense, and it honors Airmen and the Air Force heritage.
Anyone who is having suicidal thoughts and need help, there are several options available to talk to someone including family advocacy at 719-556-8943, Civilian Employee Assistance Program at 1-800-222-0364, Alcohol & Drug Abuse Prevention Program and mental health at 719-556-7804, or the chaplain corps at 719-556-4442.