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Health and Fitness

21st Century Sailor Office: 1 Small Act Can Save a Life

All Hands Magazine sat down with Rear Adm. Ann Burkhardt, Director, 21st Century Sailor Office, to talk about Suicide Prevention Month.

Although Burkhardt is the new face of the 21st Century Sailor Office, she has served the Navy for 28 years now, and like many service members she knows someone who had considered ending their life.

AHM: What can you tell us about the service member you know and how did it affect your life? (Some details have been omitted to protect the service member's identity.)

Burkhardt: I had to work with a service member at a duty station. I got to know her very well and had a good working relationship with her... And then many years later, this service member reached out to me in a time of need. She was going through marital problems. She had just found out her spouse was cheating on her. She just had their third child, and all three children were under the age of four. She was shifting to a new job which had a high operational tempo, and she wasn't physically co-located with her spouse (also another service member).

These stress factors were huge in her life and she was wondering if life was worth living. Even though she had these small children, it was getting overwhelming for her. We were able to talk through the issues she can handle today-where could she go, what resources were available-and just thought through the longer term plan (her children, her spouse). It's not over and life is worth living.

Every life is worth living. I think her reaching out to me is a sign of strength when she was in this time of crisis, and it made me realize that it does take strength. When I was recently separated from my family due to work, I realized that it is about keeping relationships with your children and your spouse.

If you're struggling, you have to communicate. Reach out to the chaplain for help to navigate being separated and just find ways to talk to the kids. And look for ways to keep that communication even though there's that distance.

So who is Rear Adm. Ann Burkhardt?

My passion is people, education and training. I had a great mentor who told me the Navy is a big place, and there is opportunity to stay in the Navy. I became a human resource officer and I've been in the Navy 28 years now. I'm lucky to be in the 21st Century Sailor Office and lead an organization whose mission is Total Sailor Fitness and Resilience, looking at reducing destructive behavior and encouraging comprehensive wellness. So it's all about the people. The 21st Century Sailor has a mission that helps Sailors be ready, fit and perform at peak performance.

Why is September so important?

Although we recognize that September is Suicide Prevention Month our efforts are ongoing. It's not just something that we do one day, in a month. It's Navy wide. September is used as a way to reenergize our efforts across the fleet, provide messages tools and strategies to help Sailors connect with Sailors and realize that it does make a difference, one small act at a time.

What is the "1 Small ACT" message?

"1 Small ACT" is the new message in the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign for this fiscal year, and it's an opportunity to connect with Sailors and show that it doesn't have to be a big event. Really, when people are connecting with people, it's small acts of caring-getting to know your Sailors and showing Sailors that you care. It can be a gesture as simple as asking 'how you are doing? How's your family?' Helping Sailors in transition whether it's transitioning to a new duty station or transitioning into the work center helping Sailors acclimate.

These small gestures and acts of kindness can make a difference in a Sailor's life. We don't know who is struggling because often Sailors can be struggling in silence. So it does make a difference and Sailors can make a difference one small act at a time.
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Why does the Navy spend its time and energy on Suicide Prevention?

The Navy spends time and energy on our people. Our people are our greatest asset. The 21st Century Sailor office is a program focused on policy on Total Sailor Fitness and Resilience. The aim is to reduce destructive behaviors but also foster a climate of comprehensive wellness.

There are a lot of factors that can lead to stress whether it's relationship problems. It could be a transition. It could be misusing alcohol. But we have protective factors in place in the Navy. We promote a culture of taking care of Sailors, engaging and getting to know our Sailors.

How can Sailors get involved?

Sailors can get involved by participating in 1 Small ACT efforts but also making a commitment to making a difference in Sailors that are around you. We are people and we connect with each other whether it's at work or at home. Every act makes a difference. Resources are available through the 21st Century Sailor Office's Suicide Prevention Branch to provide opportunities for commands to get new tools, strategies and resources to launch campaigns at the deckplate and customize locally. So there's command-level engagement, but it's really the "every Sailor, every day" engagement that makes the biggest difference.

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