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22 pairs of boots symbolize suicide’s cost each day for the military

SPM 21

If you visit the 173rd Fighter Wing in September 22 pairs of boots donated by wing Airmen hold messages designed to remind you it’s Suicide Prevention Month each bearing an important message like Connect to Protect: Support is Within Reach, this year’s theme, Sept. 7, 2021. The messages serve to remind both those struggling with thoughts of harming themselves and those and those around them that connectedness is one of the strongest deterrents of suicide. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

SPM 21

Twenty-Two pairs of boots donated by 173rd Fighter Wing Airmen welcome all who enter Kingsley Field to remind them of the cost of military and Veteran suicides each year, Sept. 7, 2021. September is suicide prevention month and statistically 22 servicemembers and Veterans take their lives each year. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. --

22 pairs of boots welcome all who enter the 173rd Fighter Wing main gate, each bearing a different message, such as “Connect to Protect,” and “You are not alone,” and others. Each pair belongs to an Airman from the 173rd Fighter Wing.

The 22 pairs of boots are significant because it reminds us that statistically, each day 22 military members and veterans take their own life.

“It’s a symbolic display for reflection on this issue and the stigma that may prevent someone from seeking help” said Jen Green, a Director of Psychological Health at the 173rd Fighter Wing.

“Suicide is a complex problem for all,” she says, explaining that a variety of biological, psychological, mental and social influences come into play when the analyzing the statistic.

Fighting suicides in the Air Force and among service Veterans has revealed a common mitigating factor amidst the complexity—it’s called connectedness. At the heart of connectedness is the feeling of belonging to a group or having affinity with others.

“Research indicates that connectedness is a factor that will reduce the likelihood that someone will consider suicide,” she said. “Social connections that people can count on and have a sense of belonging can be a very strong protective factor.”

In contrast, Green goes on to say that, “loneliness and feeling like a burden can increase risk for people.”

The Department of Defense is highlighting this in its #SPM21 Suicide Prevention Month campaign, Connect to Protect: Support is Within Reach. It’s a message that is designed to remind those who are struggling with thoughts of suicide to reach out. It’s also no accident that it reminds those who are not struggling to reach out and too foster connectedness with those around us.  

“If we can emphasize those connections with each other, our Kingsley Family and our community increase our shielding factors and it’s impactful,” says Green.

So, the simple act of knowing your co-workers of fostering cohesion in the workplace and being engaged with others is formidable defense against suicide; #BeThere. In the parlance of mental health you are reducing risk factors, promoting protective factors and fostering resiliency.

A looming barrier to this connectedness is the continuing Coronavirus Pandemic, which serves to isolate us from each other so we don’t pass germs around. Perhaps ironic that something we do for our own good has a harmful effect.

“It’s critical right now that we have social connectedness,” she said “learning new skills and applying the ones that we have all become accustomed to like virtual connectedness is vital. Also to create new ways to look out for and help one another and how we connect and fill that physical distance.”

With these things in mind the mental health professionals hope to see the trend reverse in months and years to come. For more information on Suicide Prevention Month visit: www.dspo.mil/spm or for immediate help call the Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 or text 838255. To contact the 173 FW Resiliency Team, please call 541-880-2479.

Other available resources:

Make the Connection.net – information, resources, and Veteran to Veteran videos about challenging life events and experiences.

RallyPoint – Talk to other Veterans online: discussion boards

VA Women’s Call Center - 1-855-829-6636

Together We Stand – Find your battle buddies through unit pages

Team Red, White & Blue – Military & Veteran Events - Team Bend OR – aimee.beach@teamrwb.org