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Suicide: no glory

(U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Staff Sgt. J.D. Strong II)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Elijah Chevalier, 377th Air Base Wing, photojournalist pretends to be depressed for a photo at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., July 16. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Staff Sgt. J.D. Strong II)

(U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Staff Sgt. J.D. Strong II)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Elijah Chevalier, 377th Air Base Wing photojournalist, pretends to be depressed for a photo as Tech. Sgt. Kendrick Valdo, 377th ABW security manager, pretends to offer support at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., July 16. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Staff Sgt. J.D. Strong II)

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Editor’s Note: none of the events referred to in this commentary happened at Kirtland.

Silence befell the dorm, a place that was never quiet. OSI agents were carefully processing the room before permitting me to document. Shaolin the DVD was at its menu screen, the music from the motion picture eerily playing on repeat the whole time I was in the room. The smell of multivitamins, Glade Hawaiian breeze plug-ins and vomit were all mixing in the air. The room and atmosphere became cold and lifeless. The sink was covered in emptied sleeping aid capsules, a blender bottle over filled with a concoction of vitamins and other pills. The agents left the room for me to work without disruption but there was one person that didn't leave. It was the young Airman laying stiff on the bed, with a bag over his head with vomit crusted around his mouth, neck and chest. This was my first alert photography call for a suicide. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be my last.

I’ve seen suicides up close. Just being in the room confirms that suicide is a permanent action in response to a temporary problem. In a suicide there is no glory, there is no message and there is no impact expect nausea from first responders and an indelibly bad memory for loved ones. You won’t receive kudos for your actions, salutes or military memorials, you will leave behind family, friends and loved ones who will be forced to live on without you and the harsh reality that you abandoned them.

I am blessed because no one in my family, nor any friends have committed suicide. I think that’s important to say, because I can’t relate to anyone who has experienced such pain and anguish. Unfortunately I have been there to see family members and friends deal with situation up close.

To hear the screams of a father crying for his son, is chilling, it’s not a sound you could ever forget. As I walked into my third suicide scene, I was greeted by that unpleasantry. A father lost his teenage son to suicide--a parent burying their child is already unnatural, but a loss to suicide I had to believe is even more heartbreaking. My question is why--why would someone purposely put their loved ones through such horrors? An explanation through a goodbye note can never address the questions of those left behind and really means very little when set against the obvious, overwhelming statement made by the dead body in the room.

What about your coworkers, friends and wingmen? These are the people that work with you day and night, long hours and on weekends. Punching out on them and leaving them behind could leave them with doubt. “What more could I have done to help?” “I thought everything was fine, why didn't I see they were hurting?” “I was terrible friend/supervisor/wingman.” The blame they could potentially put on themselves could see them seeking the same permanent action, a vicious cycle that could potentially proliferate.

Your circle aren't the only people that have to deal with your decision either. First responders, chaplains, mental health, the legal office, medical group, force support squadron, commanders and even us here at Public Affairs are forced to deal with your potential decision. There aren't too many career fields that deal with the harsh physical realities of life and death, but why add an unnecessary body and traumatic situation for them?

Why should I be haunted with the visions of your inglorious exit? Why should another Airman have to seek therapy because they were the one who found you after the fact? I rather sit on the phone for hours with you and talk about whatever is bothering you than document your lifeless, bloated, discolored, bowel infested corpse with OSI. I am pretty sure Security Forces would rather not walk in to a room with brain particles on the floor and walls. Then have to revisit that moment in their reports or head over and over again. I am sure your commander would rather converse with you about your problems, than explain to your loved ones that they you are no longer with us. After all, the last memory you leave behind will not be a beautiful portrait of peace and bravery, but an image that that no one should ever to witness, nor document.

Please. Before you think about your problems and what they are driving you to do, think about what your permanent action will drive others to do. Suicide is a permanent action in response to temporary problems. So reach out to your family, friends and coworkers. If you can’t get ahold of them and you are thinking about hurting yourself please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).