MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. --
At Wing One, taking care of the Airmen, families and other people who support the mission is a core value and priority of the men and women at the 341st Missile Wing.
This includes recognizing when a wingman shows signs they are struggling with something in life to the point where it's affecting their day-to-day job, their career decisions, their social behavior and their personal actions, and then taking steps to do something about it.
Three people at Malmstrom have recently talked about their story of how--when faced with a difficult and complex issue involving suicide--that recognition of the signs, intervention with action and compassion for a wingman, helped save one of Malmstrom's own.
Senior Airman Cassi Dornon, 341st Security Forces Support Squadron convoy response force, and Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Bowen, 341st SSPTS CRF team leader, recognized the signs of struggle and depression in a friend and fellow wingman, and then launched an intervention that likely saved the life of Senior Airman Christopher Wy, SSPTS CRF lead.
Dornon and Bowen have always said Wy is a superb Airman, friend and teammate.
Wy is outgoing, loves to have fun and is a very hard worker and it showed in his job, so no one suspected he had any issues, Dornon and Bowen said.
Though no one knew, Wy was struggling in a complicated personal relationship that was spiraling out of his control.
And then Wy started to exhibit signs and behaviors that did not go unnoticed.A situation that I needed help with
"I was in a very toxic relationship for five years," Wy said. "Before seeking help, I was turning a blind eye to it, kind of living in a fantasy thinking everything was sunshine and rainbows, and I kept all the bad parts of it in my head, reliving the things that made me feel awful over and over again."
"Feeling bad for that long eventually caught up to me last year and I found myself in a situation that I needed help with," he said. Wy admitted to having very bad thoughts. He also didn't know how to ask for help.
After returning from a temporary duty assignment, Dornon and Bowen said Wy began to exhibit warning signs that society and the U.S. Air Force are teaching everyone to watch out for.
Dornon said that Wy's text messages and phone conversations started to change.
He was beginning to make jokes and statements that were getting darker in tone, she said.
"I started getting worried and I tried taking him to the chaplain but he didn't want to go," Dornon said. "I told him he needed to keep talking to me then."
Dornon did keep talking to him, she said, and then it seemed Wy reached a point of peace, so she decided to give him a few days to have some privacy for his thoughts.
But then my situation changed for the worse, Wy said.
"I just couldn't take the fighting, the constant arguing, staying up late and barely getting any sleep," Wy said.
After he reached that decision--that he couldn't take it anymore and wanted out--Wy texted Dornon that he was sorry about everything, that things were too much for him to handle, and he wasn't OK.
"I asked him if he was thinking about hurting himself and he just said he was sorry," Dornon said. "And then he stopped talking to me."
After numerous repeated efforts to contact Wy went unanswered, Dornon reached Bowen and told her something was wrong with Wy.
"I don't think he's OK, and I think he needs our help," Dornon told Bowen. The two wingmen had no judgements about Wy's situation, they only wanted to prevent Wy from doing something desperate or in despair.
Bowen immediately got additional information and made her way to Wy's dormitory.
There was some heart-thumping silence at first when I went to his dorm and started banging on his door, Bowen said.
"All I'm thinking is 'God, please don't let something bad be behind this door'," Bowen said. "Please let him open the door."
Dornon and Bowen were frightened for the worst: that he would end his life.A turning point
But Wy eventually opened the door while Bowen was banging on it. And with that he opened the door to getting help. This was a turning point.
He decided to seek help with mental health at Malmstrom.
"That started my progress to where I'm at right now," Wy said. "Seeking mental health was scary at first. I didn't know what would happen to me career wise or how everyone would see me."
Wy began attending group therapy and speaking to a therapist about his problems, meeting people along the way who shared similar stories of complex situations and feeling like it was all too much. He discovered he wasn't alone and that getting help is not a weakness, it's a strength.
"Going to see professionals really helped me push to get better," Wy said. "Honestly, if it wasn't for Dornon and Bowen I wouldn't be here."
Bowen said she is thankful Dornon was available to Wy in his time of need, and is proud of Wy for his decision to get help.
"He is very brave to open up and seek the help," Bowen said. "I'm thankful for the help he found and for the friends and family that he has."
"I think the biggest piece in coming back from something like that is the people you surround yourself with," Bowen continued. "Wy surrounded himself with all kinds of family. I'm really glad because he is such an exceptional young man, and I'm very glad he is my Airman."
Wy continues to improve every day and emphasizes the importance of seeking help from available resources.
Something that I really want people to realize is that the people who are professionals in mental health and mental wellness are there for us, Wy said.
"Mental health is not going to do anything to push you out of the military. They are going to do everything in their power to get you back up and get you well," he said.
Wy has new tools to battle any future situations, and has made it through one of life's rough patches.
Wy's message is that people are resilient. Though sometimes, he said, people may find themselves in a situation that has grown abysmal and uncontrollable, but no matter what it is, there is help.
He wants people to know that tough situations are a part of life where they must face transitions and change, and that sometimes a person needs help when faced with a tough situation and that's OK.
He believes others can be helped, too, but they need to choose it and reach out.
"I want people to take suicide and depression seriously," Wy said. He hopes his story makes an impact on culture and shows people what recognition of the signs, intervention with action and compassion for others can accomplish: saving a life.
Wy said he is thankful for the way events transpired and where he is today. He credits Bowen and Dornon, the mental health professionals at Malmstrom, family and friends--and himself because he made the choice and did the work--for saving his life.If you would like to hear Wy, Bowen and Dornon tell this own story in their own words, please see the 341st Missile Wing public affairs video at
If at any time you, or anyone you know, feel at risk for hurting yourself or others, there are numbers to call.
For help resources, please see below:
Chaplain (non-duty hours) -- (406) 731-3801
Voice of Hope, Great Falls -- (406) 453-4357
Malmstrom AFB Mental Health Clinic -- (406) 731-4451
National Suicide Prevention Hotline -- 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Military One Source 24-7 -- 1-800-342-9647
Malmstrom AFB Military Child Life Consultant -- (406) 224-3813 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.)
Malmstrom AFB Military Family Life Consultant -- (406) 750-8481/8061
Malmstrom AFB Sexual Assault Program Coordinator -- (406) 731-4225
Malmstrom AFB Family Advocacy -- (406) 731-2161
Malmstrom AFB Violence Prevention -- (406) 731-1499