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NEWS | Feb. 9, 2012

Stay Resilient to Save a Life

By Senior Airman Laura Turner 11th Wing Public Affairs

I still remember every detail of that night.

The clock on my night stand read 10:04. I had taken over as the public affairs on-call photographer that afternoon and the alert cell phone was charging on the floor next to my bed.

My feet had just slid under the covers when my personal cell phone started ringing and the name of one of my coworkers popped up on caller ID.

"Hello?" I answered, expecting another 'damage-to-government-vehicle' phone call and feeling annoyed that it was interfering with my beauty sleep.

"Security forces called me because they thought I was still on call," said my coworker. "They need you to respond to an alert in base housing right away."

He didn't give me any other information, he just said to hurry.

Thanking him for the heads up, I threw the covers off and started to change back into my jeans and sweater. My biggest mistake, as I would learn later, was the choice to wear flip-flops instead of boots or shoes.

I told my husband about the call, kissed my sleeping 6-month-old son, and ran out the door.

I was contemplating what the situation could be. My primary thought was that maybe a house had been broken into and I would have to take photos of the damage or document missing inventory. I wondered why security forces had been so brief in their alert description on the phone with my coworker.

As soon as the house I was responding to came into view, I knew something was seriously wrong. I knew the house and I knew the individual and family that lived there. I could see three ambulances, approximately six security forces cars and one fire truck. A stretcher was sitting on the road next to an ambulance and there were groups of people standing around crying.

Was it a fire? Had someone been hurt? Scenarios rushed through my mind faster than I could process them. I saw what I thought was the individual I knew with his arm around his wife and daughter.

I could only see him from behind but still felt a wave of relief and knew that whatever had happened I would be able to handle it.

As I pulled up, a member of security forces came up to my car, asking hurriedly if I was the alert photographer. I told him yes, and he told me to follow him right away.

Following him into the house I was still completely unsure of what to expect. He told me to go downstairs to the crime scene and that I would find 'the body' there.

Whoa. A body?

"Now I knew that this was no simple mishap, robbery or fire. I thought maybe a visiting family member or friend had suffered a heart attack. At least I knew to expect a body.

I entered the basement from the stairs and turned left to go into a small storage room. There was a sheet over a body with blood coming through it near the chest area. No one had to tell me it was a gunshot wound, that was obvious.

I entered the room cautiously, working out my strategy to document the scene from all four angles. As I stepped in pools of blood and watched it splashing onto my toes, I couldn't help but think how I wished I hadn't worn those flip-flops.

"Do you want me to remove the sheet?" I asked a nearby security forces staff sergeant, expecting him to say no and they would have someone do that for me. Instead, he said yes and walked away.

My heart was racing now, nerves kicking in since this would be the first crime scene I'd had to shoot involving a dead body. As I pulled the sheet up, I felt my chest harden and my face freeze.

There, lying still and white, was a familiar face.

A man that had held my baby son, who knew my dog's name and who I was excited to see each time he entered our office. A man that I looked up to, bragged about and told my parents back home about because I was so impressed with his leadership and big heart. He was a man I held a lot of respect for and that I considered to be my greatest mentor.

After a moment that felt like ten minutes, I pulled the sheet the rest of the way off. The blood on my toes made me feel nauseous and I couldn't get that stained sheet out of my hands fast enough. I handed it to one of the man's best friends who was standing nearby. The man was sobbing and frantic, completely devastated by the sudden loss of his friend.

The clearest memory I have of that night is looking at that man lying on the floor and then looking at a sign that hung on the wall of the very room where he took his own life. It was a large homemade card with a photo of him as a young boy and it was signed by his parents.

It broke my heart to think that this one decision, a permanent action made in attempt to solve a temporary problem, would disrupt so many people's lives. I wondered if there was anything I could have said or done that would have changed the outcome of his decision.

I had seen him two days prior and remembered thinking he wasn't acting like his usual self. Should I have talked to someone about it? All I know now is that I could have done more than I did.

As an Airman 1st Class, it was easy to assume that my leadership had fewer problems than I did. It took something as large as the loss of a life to wake me up to the realization that at some point, we all need someone to talk to.

I encourage you, as fellow Airmen, leaders and subordinates, to always be on the lookout for that individual who may need help. From slick sleeves to four stars, we are all human. Are things getting you down? Talk to your friends, family, co-workers, ect. Counselors and chaplains are also here to help. Do you see someone who is hurting or acting abnormally? Ask those tough questions. Don't let differences in rank hinder what could be life-saving actions. Don't stay silent, stay resilient.