Before Its Too Late

Feb 15, 2019 -- Posted by : Dave

As Chief David Satchell said it's easy (too easy) for any of us to get caught up in Air Force and forget about our Airmen.

It was twenty years ago, I was a new MSgt and just took over a section of NCOs and civilians. There was a good group dynamic, socializing and solid mission performance. Once a week or so we'd go out to lunch as group; one SSgt rarely did. The joke was that his recent divorce "cleaned him out"; and he joked along with the others.
One work night my phone rang, "MSgt Ott, this is the base hospital. SSgt x has admitted himself with suicidal thoughts." I was at a loss for words..."can I come see him? “...”Not yet, we'll let you know when he can have visitors."
I called my supv (SMSgt) to fill him in. The next day we all sat down as a group and talked. Each of his friends knew a piece of the puzzle, but until we talked together none of us knew the whole picture. He turned to gambling (and booze) which team together into a monster addiction. One of his friends knew he liked to gamble (but didn't know how much). In fact, he'd receive VIP passes (free $) and another friend would take him to the casino (to redeem the pass) and then take him home. What no one knew is that he'd then go back to the casino (and eventually either get a "free" room or "free" taxi home). "Free" because the casino now had all his money.
After a week I got the call that he could see visitors, so off I went. Lift the phone, speak to the nurse, buzz in the outer door, buzz in the inner door. Then they took me to the dayroom, where he was waiting. He was wearing his civilian clothes, but no belt or shoelaces. We talked for maybe 30 minutes, nothing in particular just some generalities. Then he asked me to stop by his house to take in the mail, etc. and gave me the keys. The next day I went to the house, his divorce did clean him out, literally. The home he once shared was now just an empty building, just a mattress and sofa.
After a couple more weeks he was released into outpatient status, with regular appointments during the week. Back at work and doing well.
Christmas time was coming and he was taking leave to go home to see parents, etc. He called when he got there and called when he got back; everything seemed okay.
January 2 came, and he was not at work on time (and he was always on time). After 5 minutes we started to call his house, line was busy. Tried again, still busy. I told two of his coworkers to go the house to see what's up. Thirty minutes later they called back...he was passed out on the couch many empty beers and empty pill bottles with the phone off the hook. They stood him up and started to walk him around and called 911. As they were talking to me I heard the sirens in the background, so I knew help was there.
I hung up, called the Command Post, my commander and my supervisor. Then I sat at my desk...chills and shaking.
The others in the shop were likewise.
We got there in time, he got stomach pumped and back into inpatient care. Eventually a PCS out of the environment that pulled him down.

At the moment of danger, we were there...but in hindsight we all realized all the signals we missed, and how easy it is to not want to "pry" into someone's personal life...but that sometimes that is exactly what is needed.