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CMSAF discusses need for strengthened resiliency at symposium

by Master Sgt. Amaani Lyle
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

2/18/2011 - ORLANDO (AFNS) -- The Air Force's senior enlisted leader discussed the importance of resiliency and its impact to the service Feb. 17 here during the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium and Technology Exposition.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy spoke candidly about the repercussions of a force that fails to foster a culture of resiliency, referencing hot-button issues such as alcohol-related and ground-safety incidents, spousal and child abuse, sexual assault and suicide.

"People matter ... lives matter," the chief said in regard to the consequences of failed resiliency. "Overall, our Airmen and families are very resilient. We have to set that tone of resiliency culture within our units, within our communities."

To further emphasize Airmen vocalizing the need for or offering of help, the chief presented a video of the results of failed resiliency. Airman 1st Class Austin Gates-Benson died by suicide May 3, 2010, in Afghanistan.

Assigned to Robins Air Force Base, Ga., Airman Gates-Benson seemed unlikely to commit suicide, according to his friends and family. They came forward to share their memories of an outwardly jovial Airman, friend and son.

"Austin died because he was silent about his problem," said Fred Boenig, Airman Gates-Benson's father. "Don't be silent about yours; things that look perfect maybe aren't."

His parents, Joie Gates and Mr. Boenig, joined their son's friends and 54th Combat Communications Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Donald Cournoyer to urge viewers to speak up about any issues they may be going through, find resources for help and assist others who may struggle.

The impetus behind the video was clear, according to Chief Roy.

"'I want to make sure no other Airman feels it necessary to go to this extreme means of ending that pain,'" the chief said, relating Ms. Gates' motivation for participating in the video. "We ended up in 2010 with 100 suicides, and unfortunately, I have to report to you today we're already past that this year compared to where we were this time last year."

The chief also noted other trends impacting the force, adding that even dips in certain statistics should not be cause for complacency.

"Alcohol-related incidents have come down slightly from 2009 to 2010 fiscal year, but nearly 7,000 incidents is still a lot," Chief Roy said. "I would also argue that 3,600 ground-safety incidents in FY 10 is a lot."

The chief expressed concern for indicators on the rise.

"Child- and partner-abuse cases are both up for 2009, and divorces are up for the third year in a row," the chief said. "Unfortunately, we also have about 600 cases of sexual assault each year."

The chief's final message was a call to action for all Airmen to "communicate, care and commit."

"Our Airmen are the ultimate weapons system we have, and we need to care for them," Chief Roy said. "(Promoting) the resiliency culture is the right thing to do for our Airmen, our families and for the United States Air Force," he said.



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