10/12/10 — Base mourns deaths of two Seymour Johnson AFB airmen

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Base mourns deaths of two Seymour Johnson AFB airmen

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 12, 2010 1:46 PM

He knew it wasn't going to be easy -- or comfortable -- talking to the 4,000-plus airmen huddled on the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base flight line late this morning, but 4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Patrick Doherty knew he had to.

He told those who gathered before him as much.

Word had spread about two suicides among members of Team Seymour -- both have occurred over the past week -- so he attacked the issue head-on.

There was no other choice.

"I wish we had other things to talk about," he said. "But we've got to face some facts."

It is still not known just why Senior Airman Ross Merrit Horton and Tech. Sgt. Robert Steven Newlon Jr. took their own lives -- Horton was found dead in his Wayne County home Oct. 4 and Newlon, 38, at his Pikeville residence Sunday after a neighbor received a text message from the airman's daughter asking him to check on her father.

But one thing, Doherty said, is clear: Base leadership is taking a pro-active approach to prevent further loss of life -- and to ensure each airman knows just how much he or she is needed and appreciated by their country.

"We've got to take a moment and pause and look at each other in the eyes ... and figure out how we can take care of ourselves better," he said.

And each airman, he said, needs to take a long, hard look at an issue that has been plaguing the nation's armed services since 9/11 -- despite the fact that depression and suicide are often stigmatized as "uncomfortable" issues.

Doherty, for the first time in recent memory, called for the 4th to stand down Tuesday, as airmen, their leaders and chaplains from across Air Combat Command engage in a day of reflection and, hopefully, progress, on Seymour Johnson.

And each will be given the opportunity to vent frustrations -- or simply to offer a shoulder to cry on -- whatever it takes to see one of the Air Force's most significant wing's recover from its latest tragedy.

"You are our most important assets ... so we want to hear it all," Doherty said. "Because this is a sad, sad week for the 4th Fighter Wing."