News: Airmen build strong bond through memories, resiliency
Story by Staff Sgt. Jeremy Bowcock
UNDISCLOSED LOCATION - On the night of May 19, 2010, Senior Airman Esteban Salazar, currently deployed to the 386th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, was guarding his post in the tower at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan alongside Kevin Brunais, another deployed security forces member when the airfield was attacked.
For 18 hours, Salazar and Brunais did what they were trained to do, defend the base from the 30 oncoming insurgents.
"We were in the tower together when we received fire. None of us were really sure what was going to happen to us," recalled Salazar.
Both Airmen survived the attack, but the events of that night forever changed them. They both now carried the mental scars and understood more thoroughly the brotherly bond forged on the battlefield.
After the attack, the two Airmen finished out their deployment and returned home to their separate duty stations. They remained good friends and stayed in constant contact with one another, which included planning a trip to Las Vegas in the near future to reunite their friendship.
Unfortunately, their plans were cut short. Salazar was in his dorm room when he received a knock on the door that would forever change this young Airman's life. His friend whom he had grown so close to, had taken his life without notice.
"I didn't believe it at first, I thought he [the friend who delivered the news] was crazy," said Salazar. "Brunais was the type of person that you would never think would do that. We had just talked a couple days ago about our trip to Vegas."
Staff Sgt. Mark Bush, 386th ESFS military working dog handler, happened to be stationed with Brunais at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada and was a close friend of his when the event took place.
Bush knew his friend had gone through some tough times on the battlefield during his deployment, but Brunais never talked about it or any of the other issues he was facing in his life.
"The hardest thing is that we will never know why. I think it's the toughest way to lose somebody," said Bush. "I wish I could have let him know how much I was there for him."
The effects of the loss of their friend have brought these two Airmen closer together on their current deployment.
Today, both Bush and Salazar are serving together on the The Rock in support of Operation Enduring Freedom where they can now openly talk about their friend. They have forged a bond around the memories they hold of their friend and comrade.
In all of the turmoil of the events that transpired both Airmen understand the importance of resiliency training, suicide awareness and seeking counseling if necessary.
"Losing Brunais changed my life in how I view friendship," said Bush, who is deployed from the 28th Security Forces Squadron, Ellsworth, South Dakota. "I've learned to make sure that people are doing well both on and off duty."
Suicide is a difficult way to lose someone because it can leave so many unanswered questions, but thankfully the Air Force provides multiple programs that enhance the capacity of Airmen to effectively manage stress and continually provides tools and support to face the challenges of military life.
Specifically for security forces Airmen, the Air Force has a program called "Defenders Edge" that is designed to improve mental resiliency to combat-related stressors.
"First Sergeants, supervisors, wingmen, or anyone else can ask and get someone the help they need, whether it's taking them to a chaplain or a mental health clinic," said Col. David Sumrall, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing chaplain.
Chaplains are one outlet Airmen can utilize that are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help the person work through their struggles and find a solution to any problem they may be facing.
Another resource is the mental health clinic where trained psychiatrists and psychologists stand ready to provide mental healthcare to ensure every Airman is mentally fit.
Ultimately, the best resource for all Airmen is being a good Wingman. All Wingmen have two key responsibilities: The first is to keep themselves physically and mentally fit to perform the mission, getting help when necessary to maintain peak performance. The second is to help identify early the warning signs in the Airmen around them and to intervene to ensure others get help when needed.
The Military Crisis line, toll-free number is (800) 273-TALK (273-8255), is available 24/7, can be used anywhere in the United States and connects callers to a certified crisis center near where the call is placed. More information can be found at their website, http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/.
Additional information can be found on the Air Force's suicide prevention website at http://www.afms.af.mil/suicideprevention/.
At The Rock, military members can contact the Chaplains office, mental health clinic, or any number of our Helping Agencies Teams for assistance.