Retired Air Force SMSgt Erin Rose shares in her own words why the mission to combat Veteran suicide is so personal to her, and why she joined our team as a Veteran Business Advocate.
I joined the Air Force in 1998 from Jackson Michigan to do something bigger than myself and connect with people and build a tribe of friends. From 1998-2019 I served in Security Forces and from 2005-2008 and 2011-2016, I served as an Air Force Leadership Instructor and Leadership Course developer, where we focused on emerging leadership issues such as active duty suicide.
Suicide hits close to home for many Americans, but right now the military and our veterans are surpassing statistics.
My own Air Force career field and branch of service had the highest rate of suicides in 2019. The very year I retired. That breaks my heart and makes it even more important to reach out and help active duty separated veterans and their families.
I first encountered active duty suicide as a young Law Enforcement patrolman in Japan. A couple years after that, I stepped up to take over our suicide prevention program as a Law Enforcement Trainer. Veteran suicide hits even closer to home for me, as I personally have lost 14 close Air Force friends to suicide since 2005 (only three had served in combat, most battled silent battles with major depression, alcohol & drug abuse, failed relationships and more for years because of the stigma in seeking treatment).
My own son struggles with thoughts of suicide and my friend Matt was the person to speak to him authentically and compassionately about overcoming suicidal thoughts in Feb 2018 when my son was at the emergency room on a mental health hold. Matt and my own Defenders at my base supported the mental health of my teenage son, my daughter and I. My son is alive and on a path of healing today because of their quick response, care and compassion.
I spent my entire 20 year military volunteering as a suicide prevention trainer, peer crisis counselor, sexual assault victim advocate, mentor, and mental health advocate to find ways to prevent suicides. Human connection, listening authentically, building friendship and sharing my own personal journey always seemed to resonate and help people. My friends and I have saved many lives, but sadly we are still losing our comrades in arms.
In 2016 when I returned to lead as a senior leader in Security Forces, my Airmen took grassroots measures after having to respond to 18 suicide ideations the first 30 days. I was now their leader and we needed to find a way, so we brainstormed ideas.
A few of them had heard about special ops units integrating mental health and wellness resources into daily operations. Our own career field was testing this, but it wasn’t fielded worldwide yet.
We didn’t wait for an order to do it, we reached out to our base mental health, alcohol and drug treatment team, chapel and other wellness resources to and make it happen… The team had 36 suicide interventions and lives saved at our base alone in the first 2 months by imbedding these resources as boots on the ground.
We didn’t wait for an order to do it, we reached out to our base mental health, alcohol and drug treatment team, chapel and other wellness resources to make it happen quickly. We began Integrating military mental health therapists/technicians, chaplains and other support resources into our daily police operations as part of our team and they saved lives right away! Later at another base, we continued this and integrated crisis response training for our patrolmen and dispatchers. The team had 36 suicide interventions and lives saved at that base alone in the first 2 months. Many of those saved turned around and started this type of outreach inside their own unit, bringing in resources to medical, maintenance and other squadrons.
Serving my country in this capacity active duty and now in retirement as a suicide prevention peer counselor continues to be the reason I serve.
I wrote a lot but I am sincerely appreciative of the cause to stop active duty, veteran and their family members from committing suicide.
Erin Rose, SMSgt, USAF (retired) 1998-2019
Erin is the founder 3 Mountains Dynamic Human Development, a consulting firm that offers Leadership, Organizational & Professional Development programs to individuals and organizations.