'Heartbroken' Air Force commander shocked and in disbelief as base suffers its third suicide this year
U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Staff Sgt. J.D. Strong II
- "Here we are again. I can't believe it," the commander of the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base.
- The Air Force is taking a hard look at itself as service suicides skyrocket.
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A "heartbroken" Air Force commander expressed shock and disbelief after a South Carolina base suffered its third suicide in as many months.
"Here we are again. I can't believe it," Col. Derek O'Malley, the commander of the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, said in a video on Facebook Wednesday. "We lost another airman yesterday."
"I wake up every day, my command team, we wake up every day to try to make this place a better place. There's so much we try to do, so much more we need to do. But none of that matters right now because we lost another one of our own."
US Air Force 2nd Lt. Christopher J. Rhoton, who served in the 20th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, was found dead in an apparent suicide Tuesday, Maj. Allen Dailey with the Sumter County Sheriff's Office told WIS, a local media outlet.
The Sumter County Coroner's Office confirmed the findings to The State, another South Carolina outlet.
Rhoton's death follows two other suicides at Shaw since May.
The Air Force is taking a hard look at itself as service suicides skyrocket. As of August 1, 78 airmen had taken their own lives since the start of the year. That is a 56 percent increase over the toll from the same time last year.
"Suicide is an adversary that is killing more of our airmen than any enemy on the planet," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said in a recent letter to commanders.
The service has ordered an operational pause for all units to address rising suicide rates.
"We can't let this keep happening," Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright said in a video message back at the start of the month. "We have to get this thing turned around."
O'Malley said Wednesday that while he is pleased to see dialogue on a serious issue, there has to be more. "We're not going to solve this by talking. Those words have to translate into action."
"There is no one thing we can do to solve this. But there are thousands of things we can do that will help," he said. "That's where I want to focus."
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.
.@cmsaf18 "Every leader of Airmen, supervisor, command team, friend and family member are looking for ways to keep our teammates from taking their lives. This is our issue - we have to do everything we can to stop suicide." pic.twitter.com/Uc7AJyo9it- U.S. Air Force (@usairforce) August 1, 2019