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Just be there

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ashley Maldonado
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Ask. Care. Escort. These are the instructions military members are given when they suspect someone has suicidal ideations. The military stresses the importance of the wingman concept and being there for each other.

I did not realize how pertinent those concepts would be in my life when I initially heard them at my first duty station.

As a new Airman in 2015, I had to utilize the ACE concept when a fellow Airman, a friend I was so close with that we referred to each other as siblings, started showing warning signs.

My best friend started texting me one night while I was on a date, but the way he worded his messages was alarming. He did not sound like his usual self and it signaled some red flags for me.

After asking him repeatedly if he was okay and not getting a coherent response, I instantly asked my date to take me back home so I could check on my friend.

On the 15 minute drive back to base, I kept in touch, telling him not to do anything to himself.

As soon as the vehicle was put in park, I got out and ran to my friend’s dorm room where I found him lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling with a pocket knife in his hand. I saw cuts and blood up and down the inner part of his forearms and all over the sheets.

As I got closer to him, I could see the cuts were superficial and no permanent damage was done. Relief flooded through me as I realized I arrived just in time.

I took the knife from his hand, then helped him to the sink to clean the blood off his arms and hands. As we changed his sheets and cleaned him up, he kept telling me the voices told him to do it.

I stayed with him until the next morning and encouraged him to contact his leadership, who then got him the help he needed.

Even after four years, I still think about my friend and his suicide attempt nearly every day. I think about how close I was to losing someone I love. It is difficult to contemplate what could have happened had I not rushed home that night.

I believe even one suicide is one too many.

That is why those who may be experiencing stressors or warning signs should try coping strategies such as getting a good amount of sleep, rest and exercise, eating regularly, avoiding drugs and alcohol, removing anything they could use to harm themselves, talking to someone they trust, etc.

According to, the most common risk factors that lead to someone considering, attempting or committing suicide are: loss of a relationship, surviving a suicide loss, lack of social support, feeling overworked and sense of isolation. Other common risk factors include mental disorders like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and PTSD.

While not everyone experiences suicidal ideations, it is everyone’s responsibility to recognize the warning signs and encourage those who are struggling to get help as soon as possible.

Warning signs of suicide include but are not limited to:
- Talking about wanting to die
- Looking for a way to kill themselves
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated (behaving recklessly)
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or isolating themselves
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings

To seek help for suicidal ideations, contact the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, then press 1, or access online chat by texting 838255.

Other resources include:
- 20th Fighter Wing chaplain corps: 803-895-4673
- 20th FW mental health: 803-895-6199
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255