JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. —
“The worst part of it all was just thinking about what she
was thinking in those final moments as she was standing in the bathroom all
alone, and I can’t imagine just how lonely she must’ve felt.”
According to the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, suicide
in the military has risen across the Department of Defense since 2017. Senior
Airman Brianna Bowen knows first-hand about the impact suicide can have on victims
and their loved ones.
Although the computer based trainings and annual military
suicide prevention classes help members understand warning signs for someone
thinking of committing suicide, the 1st Operations Support Squadron air traffic
controller believes a more personal stance is needed in order to really
understand the topic.
March 16, 2009:
The day that changed Brianna’s life
When Brianna was just 13, her older sister Chelsea Bowen,
took her own life.
Brianna sat on a nearly empty school bus, awaiting the final
stop on the route. As they approached the dirt road that leads to her house,
she said it was obvious something was wrong.
“We were passing about five police cars and an ambulance that
didn’t have its lights on,” Brianna said.
Brianna was picked up from the bus stop by a police officer,
and when she saw her father sitting outside of their house, back against the
door, hugging his knees, she knew that it was big.
“Chelsea’s gone.” Mr. Bowen said.
In her final moments Chelsea sent one last text “Goodbye, I
will love you forever.”
Although Chelsea’s final text was only sent to her
boyfriend, Brianna believes it was a blanket text for all those she loved.
As soon as 15-year old Chelsea and her twin sister, Miranda,
got home from high school, Brianna believes Chelsea had already decided what
she was going to do.
“It was a Monday, right before finals week, so I guess she
planned it out that way on purpose,” Bowen said.
According to her father, Chelsea’s last verbal words to
anyone in the family were “Don’t touch my backpack,” after he jokingly said he
was going to take it. The Bowens’ father went outside to check on their
chickens, while Miranda sat down on the couch to watch TV.
One decision can have an everlasting impact, and in that
moment Chelsea’s decision would change the Bowen family’s life forever.
“Every single detail of that day sticks with me,” Brianna
said. “The bloody footprints throughout the house when Miranda was running to
get help, to seeing her body bag being pushed out the door into the driveway.”
Making a change
Although a tragedy, Brianna refuses to see her sister’s
suicide as just that. She has taken every opportunity to raise awareness about
suicide, including starting a scholarship foundation in her sister’s name in
her hometown of Gilmanton, New Hampshire.
“It is going to take strong Airmen, like Senior Airman Bowen,
to stand up and tell their stories to reach people,” said Master Sgt. Thomas
Miller, 1st OSS assistant chief controller. “Senior Airman Bowen’s sister chose
to take her own life and that crushed (Brianna). However instead of that being
the last story written about her sister, Senior Airman Bowen chose to let her
sister’s name live on by providing awareness.”
Brianna hopes for military members to come forward with
their own stories to tell and help prevent more suicides from happening with
hopes that one day military members can seek more mental health help at off-base
The ideal way to get awareness out for those in need of help
is by connecting peoples’ emotions to the topic, according to Brianna. It’s one
thing to stare at a screen or listen to a scripted lesson, it’s a whole different
experience to listen to a real person with a real story.
“Everyone is just skimming the surface because nobody wants
to get into how uncomfortable it can be,” Brianna said. “It’s a battle that
every single one of us fights every single day; it’s something we need to feel
okay talking to each other about.”