SAN ANTONIO (AFNS) — Air Force Leadership must collect isolated bits of information, like disparate points of light, to concentrate into a single beam focused on preventing violence.
The other night I was watching the evening news when they reported the story of the 50-year-old wife of a deployed U. S. service member stationed at CENTCOM Headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. The report stated the military spouse had been arrested for allegedly shooting and killing her two teenage children for "mouthing" back to her.
A TV cameraman filmed the mother being escorted by local police to the waiting patrol car. She was in a white jumper and stood stiff as a board while shaking like a leaf. As the camera focused on her face, her eyes were wide open and she had a thousand-yard stare.
The reporter interviewed a couple of neighbors who talked about how nice a person the mother was and that she even shared in carpool duties while taking local children to sporting events.
Later, it was reported that, several weeks prior to the shootings, the daughter had called police telling them that her mother had hit her twice before and, on another occasion, the mother had been in a car accident and "shown signs of drug impairment."
This tragic story touched me greatly. In 1967, my family had similar issues. That year my father, an Air Force officer, went off to serve in combat in Vietnam for a year. No one died in my family while my dad went off to war, but he had to leave my mother, who had known medical and mental issues, and three children, ages 15, 12, and 8.
In those days there was no e-mail, Twitter, Facebook or Skype, so communication between service member and family was infrequent. To call to Vietnam from the states was very difficult and time consuming. A letter took almost three weeks to make a round trip to Vietnam. My mother was under the strain of taking care of our family and she worried a lot about my dad in Vietnam. At times she took prescription drugs and self-medicated with lots of alcoholic beverages. Several times she made suicide gestures and took many of her frustrations out on us three children.
I was the oldest at 15, so many of the responsibilities of helping keep our household running and taking care of my younger siblings fell on my shoulders. I remember when my 70-year-old grandfather died, my grandmother and mother were so distraught that I had to go to the funeral home, pick out the casket and make the funeral arrangements.
My mother, now deceased, was a good person but was very ill. In those days there was some support for military members and their families, but not like today. We are much better off as a military in taking care of our families, but as recent events have shown, we can and should do better.
During the last year of my active-duty Air Force career, I had the privilege to serve on the DOD Independent Review into the 2009 Fort Hood shootings and then on the Air Force Follow-on Review, or AFFOR, titled, "Lessons Learned from Fort Hood: Preventing Violence...Enhancing Response". We reviewed more than 20,000 pages of documents and surveyed more than 2,000 total-force military and civilian leaders and ended up making 151 recommendations. To view the complete AFFOR report, click here: http://www.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-100930-060.pdf.
While all of the recommendations in the AFFOR are important, one stands out above the rest: the importance of information sharing. With so many deployments in the last 10 years, internal violence bares many faces. These include radicalization, harassment, sexual assault, domestic and workplace violence, and suicide.
Today we have many outstanding people at various venues who are working these issues, like those at installation-level working groups, Community Action Installation Boards and Threat Working Groups.
However, as more stress is put on the force, we have to do better. We have to be able to connect information from many different entities in a timely fashion that shines a light on those people who need help and assistance. We need a process that forces increased discussions among unit leaders, care providers, lawyers, chaplains, law enforcement and intelligence personnel.
The AFFOR recommended establishing a new installation-level forum called the Status of Health and Airmen Resilience Exchange, which would be linked to the CAIB. This forum would better support local commanders and leaders in identifying those experiencing difficulties. We need better ways to build a family and whole-person picture. We need a faster process to get the right information to the right person -- commander, doctor, chaplain, etc. -- at the right time.
I realize that, even if we implemented all 151 recommendations of the AFFOR, we will not stop all violence. However, we must continue to improve our systems. If we just stop one violent act in our Air Force through these recommendations, then we will have been successful in building a better and safer service.
I can still picture the mother in Tampa and her two dead children, the victims at Fort Hood, and I remember vividly my mother trying to hold it all together while my dad was in combat some 44 years ago. We owe it to our military members and families to do everything possible to ease the strain and the violence.