ARLINGTON, Va. - Smartphone applications, or apps, have no shortage of uses and can include nearly everything from sharing an exercise route with a friend to finding nearby restaurants.
For Air National Guard members and families, one app serves as a potential lifesaver.
With the goal to enhance communication, the Wingman Project, a collaborative solution to address suicide intervention for Air National Guard members and families, recently leveraged an effective tool for a technologically savvy audience – the Wingman app.
The app features the A.C.E. suicide prevention model, which reminds them to ask, care and escort. It also allows the user to create reminders to be good Wingmen and check in on their fellow Airmen, who may live as close as two streets or as far as several states away.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is conveniently listed under the 'Lifeline' tab of the app and, if called, there is military members-only option to seek help immediately.
App users can also tap on the 'warning signs' and 'risk factors' listed. While some may seem more evident, some of the listed signs that could potentially be overlooked are agitation and irritability, or changes in appetite and sleep patterns. Risk factors range from relationship problems to a lack of social support to a history of suicide attempts.
Knowing the signs and risk factors are what makes it possible to intervene.
Intervention in many cases is as simple as asking someone if they are alright, said Dr. Andrea Gonzalez, a senior policy liaison with the National Guard Psychological Health.
"Friends, families and coworkers are very often the ones who know an individual best, and are better able to connect on a regular basis," Gonzalez said.
"Humans are, by nature, social creatures and usually need some form of meaningful connection," she said. "Having connections to resources within the community ensures that even when not on drill status, Airmen have access to the support they need."
The Wingman app is just one of several communication tools available and there are many ways Airmen and their families can feel connected, especially when thoughts of suicide are present.
Since its inception in 2007, the Wingman Project has undergone an expansion of video resources, a greater development of social media tools and the creation of Wingman Day training materials.
Many of the newer initiatives were designed to specifically address the unique situation of most Air Guard members – distance.
An added challenge in addressing suicide prevention for traditional, not full-time, Guard members is they do not report to their units daily, as do active duty service members, said Air Force Col. John Slocum, Air National Guard director of safety.
The man who brought the Wingman Project into fruition in 2007, Air Force Col. Edward Vaughan, agreed.
"Air National Guard families are often geographically separated from the bases where they serve," said Vaughan, former deputy director of ANG safety who currently serves as the ANG advisor to the commander and president of The Air University.
"Wingman Project reaches out across the miles to help family members and families address suicide intervention, regardless of where they live," Vaughan said, adding that the ultimate goal is to steer members in need of professional help to the right resources quickly.
With numerous websites dedicated to suicide prevention, it is important to note that some sites go beyond just being a simple page with graphics and contact numbers.
"Wingman Project is much more than a website," said Slocum. "It's a comprehensive and far-reaching initiative to effectively reach out, educate and empower our Guardsmen and their families to ensure every Guardsman makes it home safe."
The Wingman Project includes support from chaplains, family support groups, the medical community and the safety office. The program is endorsed by the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Defense.