Suicide Prevention:Are We Doing Enough?
During ‘Viet Nam’ (year ’62 to ’74 when I retired) I had put in more than a dozen years working in the IG shop at McClellan AFB, near Sacramento. Now long deactivated, the installation
had had its share of active military-tenants during its lifetime as well as an
Air Force major [worldwide support] logistics center (Sacramento Air Logistics
Center) plus an industrial depot totaling about 25,000 military-civil service
employees. Workloads and manpower levels fluctuated consistent with mission
dynamics. During Viet Nam, McClellan served as one of several major logistics
pipelines for manpower and materiel on their way to and from Southeast Asia.
The responsibilities of an installation Inspector General include investigating specified types of complaints by military and civil service personnel, Members of Congress, the
Executive, and the public. Commander and IG responsibilities are spelled out
formally in higher hqs-level IG instructions and other directives. Grievances
by military personnel at McClellan during ‘Viet Nam’ were usually investigated
by an active duty senior airman or an officer. This was not always possible or
practical; in such instances, the task was assigned to me with the guidance of
the IG. See
There were instances, in the course of interviewing a distressed grievant (military airman or civil service employee) where the grievant injected an ‘I can’t take this situation any
longer’ expression in words that might be inferred, depending on the
interviewer, as ‘suicidal ideation’. The term, as defined, following, is not to
be taken lightly, according to mental health professionals:
Quote: ‘Suicidal ideation’ is a common medical term for thoughts about suicide, which may be as detailed as a
formulated plan, without the suicidal act itself. Although most people who
undergo suicidal ideation do not commit suicide, some go on to make suicide
attempts. The range of suicidal ideation varies greatly from fleeting to
detailed planning, role playing and unsuccessful attempts, which
may be deliberately constructed to fail or be discovered or may be fully
intended to succeed. Unquote
Suicides by military personnel occur on as well as off base. The focal point for determining the facts of a suicide on McClellan was the Base Commander’s Security Police function and, as
required, the Office of Special Investigations or the FBI. The base Senior
Commander’s Inspector General participated consistent with IG responsibilities
that prevailed in those [VN] days. In such situations I sometimes became
It was important to the Senior Commander (2-star) that military and civilian personnel on the installation knew that the ‘Complaints Program’ existed, what the procedures
were generally, and where the details could be seen, specifically. During one
staff meeting at which I briefed on ‘complaints to the IG,’ status and trends
the Man pointed at me and said, ‘Pass the word, Mike.’ I worked up a 15-minute
talk that ended with a 5-minute Q&A. If nothin’ else, it was a ‘break’ to
the work units that invited me.
Another ‘pass the word.’ The IG [my immediate supv] called me in. Several hundred US Air Force officers were on base on their way to Southeast Asia. They would gather the following day at
the Officer’s Club (and dining hall) in response to an ‘Officers’ Call’. [Signals
all officers to assemble at a designated place.
My instructions: give them some info that might be useful to each of them where they’re going.
By then I was a ‘hotline’ volunteer worker at the Sacramento Suicide Prevention Service. That as backup plus my having attended a recent week-long training and role-playing sessions
by professionals at the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Service helped me on
‘suicide prevention’ fundamentals and a flickering insight into cultural
mythologies of suicide. My talk to the transients at the Officers Club was on
‘Suicide Myths and Facts about Suicide and Suicide Prevention.’
Nowadays, the Internet screens a number of websites on the above general ‘title’. I sincerely hope that you and yours will never need them. But, suicide statistics being what
they are, like about 34,000
suicides in the US in a ONE year period, and at least 10 attempts for each that
is successful …. Think!
Suicide Prevention Is Everybody’s Business.
My blog: Military-Civilian Teamwork in Suicide Prevention is at