Pope Airman Opens Up about Suicide to Help Others

  • Published
  • 43rd Air Mobility Operations Group

Joining the military and completing basic training is difficult enough without additional obstacles. U.S. Air Force Technical Sgt. Alex West would have been more than happy if those were the only things he encountered. Unfortunately, there was much more.

The current 43rd Air Base Squadron Munitions Inspector grew up in rural Tennessee with his mother and older brother. Living in a single parent home and constantly on the move to stay in housing, there wasn’t much money to go around. Looking for something to be involved in and thinking about post-high school life, he joined the Air Force JROTC at Franklin County High School in Winchester, Tennessee, to explore potential career options.

Since college was out of the question due to financial constraints, he found that the values he adopted in JROTC pointed him to the Air Force. He was eager to join. In fact, so eager that he joined at the age of 17 with his mother’s permission.

He zoomed through basic training and received his first assignment to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, along with his best friend from tech school. Before leaving the country, he visited home to propose to his girlfriend, Allison, and spend time with his family.

There was much to celebrate in the household with Alex on his way to his first assignment and new career, an engagement to his high school sweetheart, and his brother, Corey, had just been released from jail after a 24-month sentence.

Everything had come together for the young Airman. Just as quickly, everything turned sideways.

A few days before he was scheduled to depart for Guam, he received a call that Corey had committed suicide. While the situation was obviously terrible, Alex was thankful he did have the brief experience and training from the military. He was the most prepared person in the family to manage the stress and commotion that came along with an unexpected and devastating loss of a loved one.

But he wasn’t alone.

When Alex called his friend to inform him what happened and that his arrival in Guam would be delayed, he responded, “It doesn’t matter when you get here, I’ll be here for you.” Turns out, there were a whole lot more in his support network than he ever could have realized.

After spending extra time at home making sure his family was okay, he left for the other side of the world while having to process a slew of stress from loss, grief, a long distance relationship, unfamiliar surroundings, a new job, and the struggles of newfound adulthood. Through it all, the Air Force family was there.

“During the most transitory time I had ever experienced, the one constant I could embrace was the wingmen I met along the way, including my supervisor,” West remembers. “With their help, I was able to seek counseling and have a support structure and mentors I knew I could count on no matter what.”

His only true regret is that he hasn’t shared this experience sooner so that others can learn from the obstacles he encountered. “Until recently, only my very close friends and supervisor knew what happened,” West said. “I realize now that by not sharing my experiences, not only did I close myself off to more avenues of support, but I also did a disservice to my wingmen who may have needed to hear my story.”

He shares his experiences to help fellow Airmen should they ever have something similar occur in their life, telling them that “Something like this may never happen to you, but there may come a time when it will happen to a loved one, a coworker, or even a supervisor. As Airmen, we need to be ready to support them and get them the help they need.”

Now ten years later, he remains friends with the men and women who were there for him. He’s still married to the woman that he proposed to at 18. And, he is still thankful for all of them.

“Thanks to the foundation of support in the Air Force, I know the value of wingmanship and mentorship like few others. I don’t think I would be the same man that I am today without those who were there for me when I needed it most.”

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