In wake of recent suicides, chaplain empowers Airmen

  • Published
  • By Capt. Tony Vincelli
  • 124th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Officer
There is a big difference between suicide awareness and suicide prevention. That is one of the key messages from Chaplain (Lt.) Neil Schultz, who has just begun a 90-day full-time tour to assist wing leadership in the development of a suicide intervention training program here.

That September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month as Chaplain Schultz comes aboard to work on this project is purely coincidental. What really matters is that there have been two suicides in the 124th Fighter Wing family in the past 10 months. That is why National Guard Bureau is committing resources to empower Chaplain Schultz to stand up a suicide prevention program here.

We all should be familiar with the "Wingman" concept that has been an Air Force initiative for close to a decade. Chaplain Schultz aims to take that initiative a step further by empowering Airmen to not only care for their fellow Airmen but to intervene at a time of crisis. "If you intervene and disable their suicide plan then you have prevented that suicide," said Chaplain Schultz. ACE, a program being used in the Air Force, encourages Airmen to A-Ask your wingman if they are considering killing him or herself, C- Care for your wingman by calmly controlling the situation and E-Escorting your wingman to the chain of command, chaplain or other resource. The limitations with this program, according to Chaplain Schultz, are two-fold: first, any conversations with an Airman's chain of command can be reported up the chain, making many uncomfortable or fearing reprisals. Second, because of their confidential nature, chaplains are the preferred resource for any number of Airman and Family wellness issues, so it could create a bottleneck or lack of availability at a critical time. There are only three wing chaplains who are tasked with the care of more than 1,500 124th Fighter Wing Airmen and their families.

"As a trained chaplain, I don't want to be the sole caregiver. I want to train more caregivers -- first sergeants, commanders, anyone who wants to be a good wingman -- and give them the skills they need to be confident to intervene in a moment of crisis," Chaplain Schultz said. That is where ASIST, or Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, comes into play. It builds on the foundation of the ACE program and takes it a step further. Details on how the program will be implemented here haven't been completely worked through, the chaplain said, but expect to hear more about it very soon. "The best prevention is INTERvention. We may not be able to prevent suicidal thoughts, but anyone can stop a person's plan to die by suicide--that's intervention," the chaplain said. Here are a few resources the chaplain recommends for anyone wanting to learn more about how to become a better wingman: Conduct a self-assessment - - Stress affects us all and health problems like sleep difficulties, depression, and anxiety are extremely common. For example, 1 in 5 people will have at least one episode of major depression in their lives. Sometimes wear and tear or illness creeps up on us slowly like a cancer so much that we don't feel quite right but really don't perceive anything is wrong. The link above leads to an anonymous self-assessment which takes a few minutes to see where you are.

You make a difference--Pass it on! ( - Small seeds of hope or a sense of effectiveness and belonging can grow to form the threads that sustain us through tough times. Let 3 people in your life (family, friends, wingmen, people you cross paths with routinely) know that they make a difference to you. Be specific about how and why you appreciate who they are and what they do that makes a difference in your life. Ask them to pass it on by honoring three people in their lives this way. Click on the movie to see a real life example of this process in action.

ACE - Go to

ASIST - ( - Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. The ASIST workshop is for caregivers who want to feel more comfortable, confident and competent in helping to prevent the immediate risk of suicide. Over one million caregivers have participated in this two-day, highly interactive, practical, practice-oriented workshop.