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Carrying on the fight

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jacob Dastas
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Deployed members participated in the 2021 Al Udeid Air Base Suicide Awareness Challenge at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Nov. 22, 2021.

This event tested participant’s resiliency, brought attention to suicide among military members and emphasized that reaching out for help is a sign of strength.

A study from the Cost of War Project from Brown University revealed that the suicide rate for active military personnel and veterans is double compared to civilians the same age, with 30,177 active duty and veterans having died by suicide so far in the post-9/11 era. For many members still serving, this number reaches very close to home.

“My brother was a 14-year U.S. Army veteran who took his life almost five years ago,” said Senior Master Sgt. Joshua Hartzell, 379th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron plans, programs and antiterrorism superintendent. “I wish almost every day that he would have just reached out to me.”   

Many who have lost loved ones to suicide are left with similar feelings, realizing there may have been more than what was just on the surface.

“As time goes by, I started to believe that maybe he just didn’t know that there was support out there,” recanted Hartzell. “I choose to use [the loss of my brother] to help others in need”.

From decisions like these, is where ideas like the 2021 Al Udeid Air Base Suicide Awareness Challenge began. This event tested members in both physical and mental dexterity.

The competition consisted of three five-minute periods in which participants completed circuits of 22 push-ups and a 47-foot buddy carry run for as many rounds as possible. The buddy carry signifies member’s willingness to help their brothers and sisters in arms while the 22 push-ups signify the awareness of the members lost daily. The Military Suicide Awareness “22 a Day” Movement was started by the Military Veteran Project to serve as an advocacy action network and to bring attention to veteran suicides.

“Awareness is the key,” said Hartzell. “If us coming together changed just one person’s intent or rather showed them we cared, and they chose to get help as a result, then we have won todays battle.”

For the 60 members that participated, this new event was one to remember.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect, but needless to say, it is definitely a memory I’ll hold near and dear to my heart,” said Senior Airman Denisse Monsalve, 379th Expeditionary Medical Group aerospace technician. “I learned that night that the challenge wasn’t for me. It was for my partner, and it was for the ones we’ve lost.”