Suicide Awareness month is honored each September, when our March community comes together to bring awareness and build camaraderie. Our Air Force community is tasked with knowing our duty as wingmen and sharing the responsibility of care for others and ourselves.
Staff Sgt. Joshua Evans of the 452nd Aeromedical Staging Squadron, took the initiative to create a booth at his unit where members pledge to be wingmen.
“I wanted to raise awareness of how suicide affects our military community, and incorporate it with our Green Dot training to understand our role as members of a community.” Evans said “We are our own first line of defense when it comes to supporting each other and knowing the stressors that affect us.”
Wingman Day encourages fellowship and strengthens bonds – factors that may ultimately prevent future suicides. Hosting events at the unit level in addition to the wing level creates the sense of community necessary to ensure all of our safety.
Also this month, local nonprofit the Veteran Suicide Awareness Project hosted a 22-kilometer walk in Huntington Beach, honoring the 22 veterans who die by suicide each day. Several Team March members participated in the walk, each carrying a picture of a fallen service member lost to suicide.
Founder and Gold Star widow Tech. Sgt Evita Yniguez-De La Cruz started the foundation in honor of her late husband, U.S. Army Sergeant James De La Cruz. The foundation’s purpose is to raise awareness of the issue of Veteran suicide, which is so prevalent in our community, and to aid surviving families.
“Suicide is uncomfortable to talk about – but that’s why we need to,” said Yniguez-De La Cruz. “It’s so important to reduce the stigma and know that suicide does not define someone, it only describes how they died; it’s our job to remember how they lived.”
In its year-long existence, the foundation has already received widespread positive feedback from the community as it continues its outreach.
“I’ve received emails from strangers saying that my testimonies have helped them reconsider their own suicide. Telling the world of James’ life and knowing that his death has saved others helps me heal.” Yniguez-De La Cruz said.
Being cognizant of suicide is not isolated to a single day or month – it is continually shaped by our shared understanding of wingmanship and willingness to protect those who serve.