JBPHH focuses on suicide prevention, awareness

Kapolei High School JROTC presents colors.

Story and photos by Randy Dela Cruz

Emphasizing a message that losing even one service member to suicide is too much, leaders across the spectrum of the armed forces came together at the Missing Man Memorial at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH) on Sept. 6 to sign a proclamation declaring September as National Suicide Prevention Awareness month.

Rear Adm. Brian Fort, Capt. Jeff Bernard, Capt. David Bynum, Col. Gregory Scrivner, Col. Stephen Logan, Capt. Eugene Doyle, Lt. Col. M.E. Clarke, Capt. E.B. Sheppard, Col. Kevin Gordon, Capt. G.D. Burton, Capt. T.A. Gagnon and Lt. Col. John Hill each took turns to sign the proclamation that affirms the military’s commitment to promote awareness, prevention and intervention of suicide.

They were joined by special guest and Hall of Fame football player Herschel Walker, who recounted his battle with mental illness and the need for people to seek and give support for those afflicted.

Hall of Fame football player Herschel Walker speaks to the crowd.

The proclamation states in part that Navy Region Hawaii and JBPHH join with sister services across the island to support the efforts of the Department of Defense, local programs, state coalitions and other national organizations to increase public awareness about the importance of training to help prevention and risk factors associated with suicide.

Rear Adm. Fort, commander of Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, said, “If you have had responsibility of having to deal with a suicide in your command or in your home, you know how bad that hurts. I think back to the first time I had to deal with this. A young student took his life and I had to send one of my chief petty officers to go identify him.”

Col. Kevin Gordon, 15th Wing commander, adds his signature to the proclamation.

“Although we talked about it and we prepared for it, I couldn’t prepare that chief for what he was about to do and what he was about to see. When he came back, he was never quite the same because it doesn’t just impact the individual and his family, it impacts all of us,” Fort said.

Walker, who admitted that in his darkest moments he used to play Russian Roulette with a loaded pistol, said that sometimes it’s very hard to ask for help, but awareness of the support that is available may lead people to the assistance they need.

“The hardest thing is the criticism you think you’re going to get from others,” he said. “People think that you’re going to look down on them. The thing I try to let them know is that you’re not here by yourself. There are so many people that have their dark moments, but they need to understand that they can overcome those moments.”

Capt. Jeff Bernard, Joint Base commander, talks about Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

Capt. Bernard, commander of JBPHH, said that if anyone finds he or she is in need of help, they should realize that help can be just around the corner.

“Certainly we have the military family support center to which anybody can call day or night to talk to a person,” Bernard said. “We try to instill throughout our leadership, throughout our chain of command, the need to talk to our Sailors, or Airmen to make sure that hopefully, we can identify the problem before it becomes a real problem.”

“That’s why I talk about hope. What can we do to get to the point where we’re steering people down the right path? A positive attitude, around the people we work with and around the people we care about, can go a long way toward changing somebody’s outlook,” Bernard said.

Capt. T.A. Gagnon, NIOC commander, signs the proclamation.

While military personnel will always have the support of their leaders, Bernard said that it also helps to have high-profile people like Walker to come out and send a message that somebody cares.

“On a personal level, it’s phenomenal to have a guy like Herschel Walker come and talk to you about anything,” Bernard said. “If there is still in our day and age some stigma associated with it, let’s eliminate it. Having people like Herschel Walker come out and talk about his own journey and how he got through that, hopefully will send a positive message to people in a similar situation, or certainly their leadership, peers, friends, family to know when someone is asking for help, it’s our responsibility to help them.”

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Category: Life & Leisure