Air Force orders units to stand down for one day to address rise in suicides

Air Force orders units to stand down for one day to address rise in suicides
© Greg Nash

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein is ordering all units to stand down for one day in an effort to address the growing number of suicides by service members.

In a letter to Air Force commanders, Goldfein said they would have a 45-day window starting Thursday to take what he called a “Resilience Tactical Pause” to discuss the problem with all airmen entrusted to their care as well as “every echelon of leadership” in their command.

Goldfein's decision was first reported by Air Force Magazine.

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“I had a conversation recently with a young person who had just lost a high school friend to suicide,” he wrote in the letter. “We talked about the reasons behind such a tragic and final act. What she said was enlightening, ‘Young people often see themselves as a burden to others. Their family, their friends, their unit, the Air Force ... so killing themselves in their mind is a way to remove themselves as a burden.’

“It got me thinking about how we see our airmen who have been entrusted to our care. Do we see them as a blessing ... or as a burden?” he continued. “What about first line supervisors, flight commanders, squadron commanders, superintendents? Perhaps you should talk about this in your discussions. What about you? Start with an honest assessment of how you see your airmen. How do your airmen see themselves?" 

Goldfein went on to call suicide an “adversary that is killing more of our airmen than any enemy on the planet.”

“You and I have sworn to ‘defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic,’” he continued in his letter to commanders. “Suicide attacks sometimes with and often without warning. Make this tactical pause matter. Make it yours and make it personal.” 

At the end of the roughly six-week period, Goldfein wrote that he plans to discuss the problem with commanders at the branch’s annual global wing commanders conference. 

“As commanders, taking care of our airmen and their families so they can take care of the mission is our most sacred duty as leaders,” he added.

Goldfein wrote that the branch has had 78 suicides so far in 2019. “If we do nothing, we will end 2019 with upwards of 150+,” he said. “Hopeful to hopeless ... what is going on? It is our job to find out.”