A Day in the Life of an Airman

  • Published
  • By Roland Balik
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Members of the SL24: UnLocke the Light Foundation, an organization that connects college and high school students with mental health resources, visited Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, Aug. 29, 2023, and spoke with Airmen about important mental health topics such as stress, depression and suicide awareness.

Although SL24 focuses on helping college students receive mental health care, Airmen and college students share some similarities when it comes to who to ask or where to go for help with mental health issues.

“We really want to change the paradigm of how we’re dealing with mental health issues in the Air Force,” said Chris Locke, founder of SL24. “We need to do more and provide more to get them the help they need.”

The visit, described as ‘A Day in the Life of an Airman,’ included meeting with Airmen in high-risk units such as the 436th Security Forces Squadron and 736th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron as well as helping agencies such as the White Rope program, master resilience trainers and Airman dorm leaders to determine how SL24 can help Airmen.

“The common denominator between the college student and the Airmen is that they are a bunch of kids trying to figure it out; sometimes it gets complicated,” said Locke. “Sometimes you have to ask for help and speak up to get the help you need. That’s tough for an 18-year-old.”

Learning what makes Airmen ‘tick’ will help SL24 peers formulate a plan to help bridge the gaps with on-base agencies supporting Airmen with their mental health and well-being.

“I didn’t know [much] about the Airman life,” said Zach Ryan, executive director of SL24. “To know that they have this brotherhood, and really tap into that, is really important to me.”

Locke elaborated on his perspective on suicide.

“When you lose someone, your ‘empathetic bone’ becomes stronger,” said Locke. “When you lose someone to suicide and you hear that other people are struggling, you realize this is serious stuff and [wonder] what can we do to help that person?”

To conclude his visit, Locke told his own personal account of being affected by suicide to over 120 Team Dover members.

Locke lost his son, a guard on the University of Delaware basketball team, to suicide just weeks before his 24th birthday in 2018. His loss propelled him to launch the SL24 foundation and establish Sean’s House, a safe-haven where teenagers and young adults can go to talk with mental health professionals, study and connect with other students in a relaxed environment.

After the presentation, one of Team Dover’s mental health professionals spoke with Locke.

“Chris’ powerful story and words provided even more of what we already know: high suicide rates are a national issue, and we need to address concerns by being proactive through prevention measures and not reactive when it’s too late,” said Tech. Sgt. Haley Benson, 436th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron mental health flight chief. “Chris’ mission and vision aligns with mine and we’ve both lost people close to us from suicide. His story inspired me to remember the families impacted by depression and suicide and to remain vigilant in the fight against mental health.”

Locke’s commitment to his son’s legacy is evident by helping those who are struggling with their mental health, especially Team Dover Airmen.

“I get something out of being able to [help] because I didn’t have that opportunity with my son Sean,” said Locke. “If I can do that for other people, then my son’s death wasn’t in vain.”