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Officer’s journey for healing inspires others

  • Published
  • By Col. Michael Hornitschek
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing
In case you have not had a chance to read the story about how one officer at Scott AFB sought help when he experienced thoughts of suicide and how he overcame a low point in his life, please ensure you take the time to read it now. I've included it in this week's paper, located just below this commentary.

This comes on the heels of our Wingman Day, where we discussed how to stay mentally and physically fit to ensure resiliency in our Airmen. Those who participated in Wingman Day have since shared some good suggestions and feedback for us as we look ahead at how we can continue to foster a culture where people know it's OK to seek help ... and then actually do seek help. It's all about "Have a Wingman, Be a Wingman."

There are a few things that stand out in my mind after reading about this officer's experience. When he acknowledged to himself that it wasn't normal to have thoughts about ending his life or feeling sad that a vehicle did not actually hit him, he turned to his wife for support first.

I believe this sends an important message that our spouses are a source of strength. As commanders, we do everything in our power to ensure information is being shared not only with our military members, but also with spouses and family members. For those who are not married, ideally there is someone who you trust and who you can share your life with. It might be a friend or significant other or family member, but ideally there is someone you can turn to when you need help.

If family and friends are not available, our Airmen must have the kind of relationships with each other and their supervisors to know that they can share any feelings of distress and that there are people who care about them. We all have a duty to be involved with those we serve with and supervise, and I'm confident in our ability to respond when assistance is needed. Our chaplains are another tremendous avenue for strength and support.

In this particular account, Maj Gladden's spouse showed amazing resolve and compassion as she journeyed through each step of healing with him and ensured he got connected to the right helping agencies and people. Make no mistake about it, our spouses are our partners in the mission. I applaud this couple's commitment to each other, their family, and ultimately to working together through this experience. It speaks volumes about their resiliency. When a person's own resiliency begins to breakdown, having a Wingman becomes the last-chance safety net, much like the one that protects a trapeze artist.

Something else that stands out about this officer's experience is that he shares how his commanders and supervisors supported him through this process of healing. He was still promoted and did not get "fired" from his duties just because he sought help. We are all human and life can get complicated, so just because we may experience a few bumps in the road does not mean that our road has come to an end. Most times, keeping the right perspective is helpful when we're seeking solutions and our helping agencies can help us with that.

On a final note, this officer's experience also highlights the connection between physical fitness and mental/emotional health. Our physical health indicators are not just how fast or far we can run, but also if we're getting enough sleep, eating the right foods and doing what we need to do for overall health. Let's ensure that we're attending to all of these areas to achieve the right balance for an active lifestyle and mission requirements.

The response to this story has been overwhelmingly positive, and it shows that our Air Force family is there for us. We shouldn't let fear of the unknown or maybe a little bit of pride get in the way of seeking help when we need it most. Have the courage, like this officer, to recognize when we need help and then turn to those who we trust to guide us through the healing process. It will be a win-win situation for all of us when we do.