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Connect to Protect: Wounded Warrior shares personal story of suicidal thoughts, recovery

Col. Casey D. Eaton, left, then-89th Airlift Wing commander, awards Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace, then-89th AW public affairs chief, with a Bronze Star with Valor medal at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Aug. 15, 2017. Wallace was awarded the medal for his distinguished heroism on April 4, 2011, as a 4th Infantry Division combat photographer. Wallace, a retired senior master sergeant, shared his personal story of resilience with the Hanscom community during a virtual Suicide Prevention Month Storytellers event Sept. 22. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Valentina Lopez)

Col. Casey D. Eaton, left, then-89th Airlift Wing commander, awards Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace, then-89th AW public affairs chief, with a Bronze Star with Valor medal at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Aug. 15, 2017. Wallace was awarded the medal for his distinguished heroism on April 4, 2011, as a 4th Infantry Division combat photographer. Wallace, a retired senior master sergeant, shared his personal story of resilience with the Hanscom community during a virtual Suicide Prevention Month Storytellers event Sept. 22. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Valentina Lopez)

Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace engages Taliban during a recon patrol in Bala Murghab, Badghis province, Afghanistan, Jan. 9, 2011. Retired Senior Master Sgt. Wallace spoke to member of the Hanscom community during a virtual Suicide Prevention Month Storytellers event Sept. 22. (U.S. Navy photo/Petty Officer 1st Class John Pearl/RELEASED)

Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace engages Taliban during a recon patrol in Bala Murghab, Badghis province, Afghanistan, Jan. 9, 2011. Retired Senior Master Sgt. Wallace spoke to member of the Hanscom community during a virtual Suicide Prevention Month Storytellers event Sept. 22. (U.S. Navy photo/Petty Officer 1st Class John Pearl/RELEASED)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – A guest speaker shared his personal battle with suicidal thoughts and how he was able to overcome it through connectedness during a virtual event here Sept. 22

Retired Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace, a Wounded Warrior, embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units throughout his 20-year career. He was addicted to the adrenaline of combat and the comradery of those he served with.

“It was never a question of if they had my back; I always knew they did,” said Wallace. “Proving that I had theirs, too, meant everything to me.”

Hanscom hosted a virtual Storytellers event Sept. 22 during Suicide Prevention Month.

Hanscom senior leaders named suicide prevention as a top priority and emphasized the importance of being socially connected as a community as a means to combat suicide. The 2020 theme for the Air Force observance is “Connect to Protect.”

“We must rededicate ourselves to actively working every day to fulfill our collective responsibility to watch out for each other and take care of each other,” said Col. Katrina Stephens, installation commander, in a video message to the base.

Despite his continual exposure to war, Wallace refused to acknowledge his post-traumatic stress. After returning home, his anger and resentment for those who couldn’t understand his traumas grew into a darkness that engulfed his whole life.  

”I whole-heartedly believe that we were over there fighting to rid the world of monsters, but I didn’t realize that I had become a monster myself,” he said. “I brought it into my living room and exposed my wife and children to it.”

In his darkest time, Wallace was ready to end his life. On his way home from a shooting range, he pulled off into the woods outside of Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

“I was ready to leave,” he said.

It was in the woods that Wallace realized something: ending his pain would only amplify it for his family. He thought about his wife and their children, and his wingmen and battle buddies he would leave behind. After that day, he started his next battle, one of recovery.

Wallace described self-awareness, connectedness, self-care, and care of others as his key pillars of recovery.

“You have to be self-aware and know yourself well enough to know when something is off,” he said. “Then, you have to get yourself help.”

Wallace said he found help in “finding his tribe,” support groups for veterans who share his passion of art and scuba diving.

“It’s imperative that you find a place where you belong,” he said. “Discover what it is that you’re passionate about, and just do it.”

In sharing his experiences, Wallace acknowledged that his story is his own, and there is no set criteria for trauma.

“This isn’t just a combat thing; trauma doesn’t use a measuring stick,” he said. “What you’re going through is important and it matters.”

In the virtual and self-isolated space of COVID-19, he emphasized how much more important it is now than ever that people check on their friends and loved ones. 

“It can be really hard to reach out to people when we’re going through our own things, but it’s so important that we do,” said Wallace. “I hope your friends are checking on you, and I really hope you’re checking on them too.”