Our brothers' keepers?

ABRAHAM LINCOLN CAPITAL AIRPORT, Illinois -- Are we our "Brother's keepers"? That seems to be the message from last month's stand down. Its primary focus was to focus our attention on suicide prevention and vehicular accidents by becoming good "wingmen" to other Air Force members. But as a means of preventing suicides, what do we have to do to be good wingmen? We need to be on the lookout for the attitudes and behavior that can lead fellow airmen to violence. Our goal is to prevent and head off violent and reckless action.

For the suicidal, we should be on the lookout for five separate risk factors that make people vulnerable to harming themselves. First, we need to look for thoughts or plans that our wingman might have to end his or her life. If our wingman starts talking about how hopeless and futile things are, we have to probe these thoughts and assess the danger they present. Second, we need to be watchful if our wingman has attempted to end their life before. Third, a wingman who drinks heavily is more vulnerable to harming himself or herself because drinking can lead to deep and intense depression. Fourth, we should be aware of those who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses because they can be impulsive and have poor self-control. Finally, if there is a history of any kind of sexual or physical abuse or a suicide in our wingman's family, we should pay special attention. When we see these in our wingman, it is possible that they will become violent. Stay with them and accompany them immediately to someone or some place where they will be safe.

To be a good wingman, we are to aim at not only prevent suicides, but also at preventing our wingman from harming himself or herself through reckless behavior, accidents or negligence.

Every summer, we lose about 20 Airmen to vehicular accidents and a third of these accidents involve alcohol. Take the keys away from a wingman who has been drinking. Many other deaths and injuries are caused by irresponsible, careless and reckless drivers. Responsible Airmen don't tolerate this. They remind their wingman that driving their vehicle is probably the most dangerous thing they will do on any given day of the week.

But being a responsible airman also means we present a positive image to our wingman. This image consists of: 1) mental fitness; 2) emotional fitness; 3) physical fitness; and, 4) spiritual fitness. Mental fitness means keeping our mental life and attitudes balanced and positive. This means that focusing on what is good and positive and not dwell on what is harmful, degrading or malicious. Emotional fitness means striving to be positive, cheerful and don't lose our smile. We keep a good sense of humor and enjoy things as much as we can. Physical fitness means having the discipline to keep ourselves strong, trim and fit. Physical fitness gives stamina and the ability to endure what are sometimes trying days. Spiritual fitness means knowing and understanding what our destiny and purpose is in our lives. Not understanding why we are here or where we are going weakens us, zaps our energy and destroys our motivation over the long run. We have to confront the great questions of philosophy and religion: What is true? What is good? Why are we here? Confronting these, we have to find answers that protect us and give us life.

Being a genuine wingman is a real, serious and daunting challenge, for it demands that we be our "brother's keeper" and superb Airmen too.