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Shaw Air Force Base Plans Pause in Operations After Rise in Suicides

Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina is planning a tactical stand-down over three days in August and September to help the personnel to "recharge" following the suicides of three airmen in the past year, with the total number of Air Force suicides already reaching 79 this year.

The 79 deaths, which occurred in the Air Force from January to July 2019, were nearly twice as many compared to this time last year and officials fear 2019 could be the deadliest in history, according to the Post and Courier. The military branch has recorded about 100 suicides per year over the past 5 years.

Second Lt. Christopher Rhoton, 35, Justin Strickland, 26, and Jose Llanes, 28, all committed suicide at the base this year, according to Sumter County Coroner Robert Baker.

Air Force Col. Derek O'Malley of Shaw Air Force Base posted a video on Facebook Wednesday detailing their plans to allow Air Force personnel time to recharge their batteries during a Resilience Tactical Pause (RTP) at the base. The RTP schedule also includes a guest speaker on 13 September before they break into small groups later in the day to help promote dialogue about mental health.

“I’ve directed our commanders to take a hard look at our schedules," O’Malley said. “No doubt there are times where our country needs us to really push it forward, demands a lot of us and our mission, but there are times also where we can really pull it back. And we need to proactively identify those times so that we can rest up and be ready for when our nation really needs us.”

 “We lose more airmen to suicide than any other single enemy, even more than combat,” Kaleth Wright, chief master sergeant of the Air Force told the Post and Courier. “If we don’t do something, we could lose up to 150, 160 airmen in 2019.

Wright didn’t say what led to the dramatic rise in suicide rates this year, although he says some common causes include relationship problems and discipline issues.

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