JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas --
A few weeks ago I was tagged in a post by my teammate, CMSgt Jay Harris to take on the 22 push-up challenge for Veteran Suicide Awareness. The purpose is to bring light to Veterans Affairs studies which show on average - we lose 22 Veterans to suicide each day. This rate is close to double that of the US population. Victims range from all ages and span retired, separated, active duty, guard, and the reserves. Everyday we learn more of how it also impacts those who serve alongside our veterans - their spouses and children.
Today, I’ll compete day #22 of my challenge and want to say up front, I know these push-ups don't fix anything by themselves. Additionally, I recognize this is a deeply personal topic for many. This enemy is deceptive and elusive. It causes unmeasurable damage to lives and families. It hurts like no other. And even one “statistic” is one life too many. Taking time out each day to do these push-ups, has given me time to reflect on how we can be better as Wingmen. And below is what came out of it:
ATTACKING THE STIGMA
This topic is not easy to talk about…and that’s a large part of the issue. When someone says they are having Mental Health problems or challenges…it does NOT mean they are broken…it means they are HUMAN. If you broke your leg, there would be no hesitation to see a doctor. Why doesn’t the same apply for your mental health – and without judgement?
We all know, no one in life is immune to pain in this world. It’s only a matter of time before an event comes along that will bring us to our knees (regardless of how strong we are). And it’s crucial to never suffer in SILENCE or ALONE. When we let pride and ego get in the way, it becomes a massive barrier to being honest with ourselves and those around us. We feel like we have to play a part and don’t give ourselves the permission to heal and seek help. It’s a part of life’s journey and we need to learn to lean on each other, to combat shame, and avoid isolation when the storm hits. And when we do, we can emerge even STRONGER.
RECOGNIZE COMPETITION CAN KILL
It’s natural in our line of work to want to compete…to be THE best. We strive to set the bar high in the military and give our Nation the strongest fighting force possible. Individually, we can get caught up in a rat race to chase a #1 spot, finish first in the class, _____________ (you fill in the blank). This quest to “reach the top, get mine, level up” - feeds into a “dog eat dog, at all costs, back stabbing” culture. And there’s a brutal cost that comes with it – it DIVIDES us. This is where TRUST and CONNECTION erodes. And it destroys teams.
Instead of trying to beat the people around us, we should be focused on lifting them up. We should care far more about the lives we’re blessed to SERVE alongside, than any promotion, award, or recognition. I’ve been lucky to have a few of those in my career, and can tell you a quick e-mail or note from someone who said “you HELPED me…” is far more fulfilling (as in, not even close). Focus on building up others, highlighting their talents, amplifying their purpose, and supporting them anytime doubt creeps in. When you do - you’ll feel better, they’ll feel better - and we’ll all see just how high WE can climb TOGETHER.
OPEN UP A REAL DIALOGUE
It’s easy to boast about all the things we are great at…but what about our faults, our scars, the things we avoid. This gets at the HEART of being vulnerable. Of being genuine to the person we are and not putting up a front or wearing a mask showing that things are perfect in our lives. What’s powerful is when we open up a conversation about what we struggle with - people tend to naturally CONVERGE around it.
This is where meaningful connection takes place. People encouraging, checking-in and helping each other to stay accountable. And when we fall short, they are there to help us get back to our feet. Why, because we’ve let them see us – for who we really are and how we are trying to GROW. And all they want at the end of the day, is a chance to be there for you and me, whenever we may need it.
The graphic includes the faces of teammates who have taken the 22 push-up challenge since I started. Each one of them would do anything to be there for a brother or sister-in-arms. After a weekend of reflection and appreciation of those who served and sacrificed everything from our military, I find myself thinking about the ongoing WAR on suicide – the one with the biggest cost within our ranks.
We can’t and won’t shy away from it. Because our TEAMMATES out there need us and we need them. To all the people who picked me up when I was close to giving in, I’ll continue to try and repay you by doing the same for someone else. And I have FAITH that we can and will be better, because no matter how dark things get – we can choose to shine a LIGHT and give someone HOPE.
#fightingforhope #thewarwithin #endlessmission #caringforeachother #wingmen4life
Confidential Military Crisis Line: 1 (800) 273-8255 (option 1) or Text 838255
Military One Source