ARLINGTON, Va. – In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks at the Pentagon, Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Clifford Bauman was part of a crew that went to the crash site searching for survivors.
They did not find any, and after 18 hours of wading through water-soaked carnage, he went home, stowed his gear, washed his uniform, and then himself.
"That was the first time I broke down – in the shower; because up until then, I didn't show any emotion," Bauman recalled.
After that episode, he "went on with life" and internalized his emotions – even manipulating a therapist he was ordered to see into believing he was fine.
"I just wanted to get that stamp that said I was 'fit for duty'," Bauman said.
It's what led to his suicide attempt.
After a three-day stay at a mental health-care facility, Bauman reflected on what had happened and decided to "not worry about my military career and just really focus on getting better."
He adopted a new, life-affirming mindset that saved his career. But most important, Bauman added, he learned how to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder effectively.
"I was more open and honest with my counselor, and he was better able to treat me," he said. "They are only as good as you [allow] them to be."
Today, Bauman said he lives by a C.S. Lewis quote he includes in his email signature: "I have learned now that while those who speak about one's miseries usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more."
"That sums up everything I have gone through in one sentence," said Bauman. "It really resonates with me."
As a suicide survivor, the quote is just one reason why he often serves as a speaker at events and conferences to raise awareness about suicide prevention.
"I don't do it for glory," Bauman insisted. "I do it for the sole purpose to help somebody not to go down that path. That's really all I care about."
Bauman got started engaging audiences about suicide prevention and awareness during an Army resiliency training seminar. A knack for storytelling, he recalled, just might help other people from trying to take their own lives.
"You can ask my third-grade teacher that I am good at telling stories – so it came naturally for me," he joked.
Yet, the responsibility Bauman has toward his fellow National Guard members in discussing a serious subject is never lost on him.
"The most important thing for me when I speak to an audience is to be 100% honest," he said. "I laugh, I cry, and I speak from my heart, and that is why I connect to people."
Though his presentations at events and conferences are inspired by Army leadership courses, Bauman said he steers clear of a "check-the-box" approach.
Encouraging people to connect with the resources they already have in their lives is the centerpiece of his presentations, he said.
"I always tell people [who may be troubled] that even if you think there's nothing wrong with you, I can guarantee you that your family does, and the family is usually that first line of defense," Bauman explained. "I also talk about having that one friend that you can pick the phone up and call in the middle of the night."
Whether it's family, friends or a unit's leadership, he said reaching out is paramount in handling life's challenges in a positive way.
"You have to have that personal engagement," insisted Bauman, an automations officer with the Army National Guard Readiness Center's Aviation and Safety Division.
In recent years, he's taken what he described as his "life promotion" message to Veterans Affairs events, Army and Marine Corps units, and civilian organizations. He's also participated in video projects that raise suicide awareness.
Bauman said he looks forward to speaking to more military units, especially amid the new challenges service members face dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
"COVID-19 has had a huge impact on Guard members and their families – from isolation to joblessness, and parents having to home school their children," he said. Bauman recommends stressed Soldiers and Airmen try to communicate with their unit's leaders. "Never be embarrassed or ashamed to reach out for help."
Though he tailors his presentations to the places where he speaks, Bauman said his overriding mission never changes: Eliminate the stigma of getting help before it's too late.
"I wasn't brave enough to pick up the phone and call somebody," he said. "I tell [people] all the time, 'You're important to somebody, and allow them that last chance to try to help you because they love you, and they want you here tomorrow.' "
If you need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).