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Suicide Prevention Month 2021 wraps up with a mile-and-a-quarter walk around the air base

Members of the Delaware Air National Guard 166th Airlift Wing turn out for a walk to bring attention to the scourge of military suicide

NEW CASTLE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Del. -- Members of the Delaware Air National Guard 166th Airlift Wing turn out for a walk to bring attention to the scourge of military suicide, October 1, 2021. The walk was organized by Lakenya Baker, MSW, LICSW, Director of Psychological Health. The walk was led by two Airmen from the 166th's Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit, SSgt. Dominic Buckmuse and A1C Jeramie O'Connor. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Mr. Mitch Topal)

Members of the Delaware Air National Guard 166th Airlift Wing turn out for a walk to bring attention to the scourge of military suicide

NEW CASTLE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Del. -- Command Chief Master Sergeant Michael S. Murphy speaks to members of the Delaware Air National Guard 166th Airlift Wing who are participating in a walk to bring attention to the scourge of military suicide, October 1, 2021. The walk was organized by Lakenya Baker, MSW, LICSW, Director of Psychological Health. The walk was led by two Airmen from the 166th's Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit, SSgt. Dominic Buckmuse and A1C Jeramie O'Connor.(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Mr. Mitch Topal)

Members of the Delaware Air National Guard 166th Airlift Wing turn out for a walk to bring attention to the scourge of military suicide

NEW CASTLE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Del. -- Colonel Lynn K. Robinson, Jr., the 166th Airlift Wing Commander speaks to members of the Delaware Air National Guard who are participating in a walk to bring attention to the scourge of military suicide, October 1, 2021. The walk was organized by Lakenya Baker, MSW, LICSW, Director of Psychological Health. The walk was led by two Airmen from the 166th's Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit, SSgt. Dominic Buckmuse and A1C Jeramie O'Connor. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Mr. Mitch Topal)

Members of the Delaware Air National Guard 166th Airlift Wing turn out for a walk to bring attention to the scourge of military suicide

NEW CASTLE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Del. -- Colonel Members of the Delaware Air National Guard prepare to participate in a walk to bring attention to the scourge of military suicide, October 1, 2021. The walk was organized by Lakenya Baker, MSW, LICSW, Director of Psychological Health. The walk was led by two Airmen from the 166th's Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit, SSgt. Dominic Buckmuse and A1C Jeramie O'Connor. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Mr. Mitch Topal)

Members of the Delaware Air National Guard 166th Airlift Wing turn out for a walk to bring attention to the scourge of military suicide

NEW CASTLE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Del. -- Lakenya Baker, MSW, LICSW, Delaware Air National Guard Director of Psychological Health, organized this walk to bring attention to the scourge of military suicide. The walk was led by two Airmen from the 166th's Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit, SSgt. Dominic Buckmuse and A1C Jeramie O'Connor. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Mr. Mitch Topal)

DELAWARE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Del. --

Forty Airmen from the Delaware Air National Guard participated walk around the air base on Friday, October 1, 2021, to call attention to the scourge of suicide among members of the military. Leading the walk were two members of the 166th Civil Engineer Squadron’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit. One of the most stressful jobs in the military, it is thought that EOD members suffer one of the highest suicide rates in the U.S. military. The walk was organized by Lakenya Baker, 166th Airlift Wing Director of Psychological Health, who wanted to wrap up Suicide Prevention Month with a meaningful event.

“Over the past 19 months, I have had several conversations with Airmen and family members who feel discouraged and concerned for the safety and wellbeing of their families and country. COVID-19, civil unrest, racial injustice, and evacuation from Afghanistan has left folks feeling disconnected and left to grapple with unresolved grief and loss on their own. The 166th Airlift Wing Suicide Prevention walk held on 1-October, reminded us how important it is to foster community connections and strengthen individual and unit resilience to overcome current and future life challenges,” said Lakenya Baker, Director of Psychological Health.

The news isn’t all bad, though. Decreases in Veteran suicide across multiple fronts and methods of measurement in 2019 were unprecedented across the last 20 years. There were 399 fewer veteran suicides in 2019 than in 2018. Efforts by the military to call attention to the problem – and to provide suicide help lines and other assistance – seemed to be moving the needle in the right direction.

But the Veteran’s Administration which compiles data on military suicides hasn’t yet released the numbers for calendar year 2020. Many expect that because of the added stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the suicide numbers will likely climb.

For the men and women of the U.S. military, job stressors are palpable. And for the higher risk specialties like EOD, those stressors are amplified.

That is why Staff Sergeant Dominic Buckmuse, EOD Equipment Manager and A1C Jeramie O’Connor, EOD Technician, led the walk wearing full EOD gear to call attention to the stress felt by many active-duty members and veterans alike.

“In our career field we’re under stress every day in this gig. And the stuff you see over the years takes its toll. We see it in our community constantly. We lean on each other quite a bit. We’ll travel to give members of other EOD units support when its needed. We all go to school together, so everyone knows each other across the branches of the service,” explained A1C O’Connor.

Staff Sergeant Buckmuse added, “There are only 17 EOD flights in the guard so it’s a tight-knit community. Every time I go TDY I check on friends. I have friends that I text with constantly, especially when they’re overseas, just to keep that mindset of closeness. It’s like one big family here. My only message to other EOD units is to stay safe. If you need us, we’re here.”

In a letter to the force from General Daniel R. Hokanson, Chief of the National Guard Bureau and Tony L. Whitehead, Senior Enlisted Advisor, states:

Resources to help our National Guard family are always within reach. If you or a loved one are in crisis, reach out to Military One Source at 800-342-9647. You can also call the Veterans/Military Crisis Line for confidential support available 24/7 by calling 800-273-8255 (press 1), text 838255, or chat online at www.veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/chat. You can also access Suicide Prevention Month resources on www.dspo.mil, and find ways to promote well-being and resilience at www.nationalguard.mil/wrf. Contact your Director of Psychological Health, Suicide Prevention Coordinator, chaplain, chain of command, or supervisor for more local resources and events. There is always someone here to help you.

Together, we can keep each other safe and strong. We’re here for each other so we can keep our promise to be Always Ready, Always There.

The Air Mobility Command (the 166th Airlift Wing’s gaining command) is following the DoD’s and Army’s lead in encouraging positive mental health by focusing on employees holistically, by arming them with the positive, protective factors of overall physical fitness, mental strengthening, social skills, spiritual strength and resilience. AMC’s Suicide Prevention Program is based around year-round activities and training that encourages positive affirmations, self-care and self-awareness, connectedness and work-life balance.