by Master Sgt. Russell P. Petcoff
4/30/2010 - WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- For a half day in May, Airmen will learn strategies to prevent suicides and private motor vehicle accidents as part of Wingman Stand Down 2010. The exact date for the stand down will be left to individual units to determine.
In a jointly signed letter, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy noted the reasons for the stand down.
"Sadly, 18 Airmen, eight guardsmen and reservists, and three civilians, of all ranks and specialties, have taken their own lives so far this year," the senior leaders noted. "Additionally, approximately 50 Air Force members annually are killed in motor vehicle accidents."
"To jump-start this effort, we are directing a half-day wingman stand down for all units in May 2010. This stand down will include discussions at squadron level or below, led by unit leadership," the joint letter by the general and chief says. "The stand down will include three topics: suicide prevention, motor vehicle safety and improving wingman skills by knowing your people.
"Your full participation and support is essential as our Air Force moves forward to reduce suicides and injuries, save lives and preserve our most important asset, our Airmen," the letter says.
The Air Force surgeon general told a congressional panel last month the Air Force's suicide prevention program, implemented in 1997, continues to be effective, but the service has experienced a slowly increasing rate since 2007.
"We are enhancing our prevention programs to further decrease suicides by targeting those most stressed by high operations tempo," Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Charles B. Green told the Senate Armed Services Committee's Personnel Subcommittee March 24. "We now target more in-depth interventions and training to Air Force security forces and intelligence career fields, whom we have identified as having double the incidence of suicide compared to the rest of the Air Force."
The Air Force continues training the entire force on suicide prevention and coping skills to improve both Airman and family resilience, Doctor Green said.
"We adapted new concepts rapidly such as 'Ask, Care and Escort,' and collaborative care, wherein mental health providers are now embedded in the majority of our family health clinics," Doctor Green said. "We have also studied and targeted interventions for our civilian work force identified at high risk. Collaborative care, on-line help, mandatory post-deployment surveys and Family Life counselors at our Airman and Family Readiness Centers have decreased stigma and allowed those in need to get help earlier."
The Air Force's focal point for safety on the Air Staff said the stand down will "reenergize the wingman concept," what he called the foundational approach to suicide prevention and unit safety.
"Wingman Stand Down 2010 offers a pause in the day-to-day mission focus of Airmen in order to focus on the rise in Air Force suicides, reinvigorate the wingman concept and examine the loss of Airmen to private motor vehicle accidents," said Maj. Gen. Frederick F. Roggero, the chief of Air Force safety. General Roggero also serves as the commander of the Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
The structure of the stand down features unit commander comments, video presentations on safety and suicide prevention, guided small-group discussions, wingman card distribution and asking Airmen to personally identify their wingman.
The guided discussions will be the focus of the half-day event, said Col. Roberto Guerrero, the vice commander of the Air Force Safety Center. The discussions will encourage Airmen to strengthen wingman relationships and teach them to prevent private motor vehicle accidents by curbing reckless behavior and reduce suicides through proactive intervention.
The Wingman concept is part of the Air Force flying culture and dates back to the earliest days of aerial combat.
"Wingmen have always operated as a pair to watch each other's backs," Colonel Guerrero said. "We take responsibility for one another and provide help when our wingman needs it."
Major commands will be sending guidelines and plans about how to implement Wingman Stand Down 2010 to their respective subordinate units.