Looking for a sign: Air Force vet stands out in Yokota with suicide awareness message


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Air Force veteran Scot Northcutt often stands at Yokota Air Force Base, Japan, holding a sign with a jarring message: “If you’re looking for a sign so you don’t kill yourself today, here it is.” . He is spreading his message on behalf of Mission 22, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about suicide among veterans. (Jérôme Ray)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – One day a month, for just an hour or two, Air Force veteran Scot Northcutt stands at one of Yokota’s busiest intersections, holding a sign with a jarring message.

“If you’re looking for a sign that you don’t kill yourself today, you are,” he says.

Northcutt is spreading its message on behalf of Mission 22, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about suicide among veterans. He founded the local chapter, Yokota for Mission 22, in May, he told Stars and Stripes in a September 3 interview.

Mission 22 is a private, non-profit organization that promotes awareness of mental health treatment and builds memorials for veterans. In Yokota, Northcutt is promoting Mission 22 around the corner, via a Facebook group, and by holding a booth inside the exchange and at events on the base.

“Some people seem to be doing everything possible to avoid looking at the sign, or very deliberately looking away,” he said. “Every now and then I get a few horns or a thumbs-up as I pass. But anyone can approach me if they need to talk to someone.

As the namesake of Mission 22, Northcutt said he chooses the 22nd of each month to display his sign to represent the 22 veterans that the Veterans Administration in its National Veterans Suicide Prevention 2020 annual report. reported dying by suicide every day.

Because military bases are seen as non-public forums, where the free exercise of speech, assembly, and debate is restricted, Northcutt needs new approval each month from the private organization’s office in Yokota. to organize its event.

Private organizations are approved according to Air Force regulations, according to an email from the base’s legal office. Each organization must submit a written constitution, statutes and documents outlining its intention and mission.

<a class=Air Force veteran Scot Northcutt often stands at Yokota Air Force Base, Japan, holding a sign with a jarring message: “If you’re looking for a sign so you don’t kill yourself today, here it is.” . He is spreading his message on behalf of Mission 22, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about suicide among veterans. “/>

Air Force veteran Scot Northcutt often stands at Yokota Air Force Base, Japan, holding a sign with a jarring message: “If you’re looking for a sign so you don’t kill yourself today, here it is.” . He is spreading his message on behalf of Mission 22, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about suicide among veterans. (Jérôme Ray)

“They operate at Air Force facilities with the written consent of the facility commander,” Vanessa Moran, the private organization’s coordinator at Yokota, told Stars and Stripes by email on September 15.

She said her office annually approves events on the basis of which several organizations voice their interests and concerns. One of them, the Yokota LGBTQ + Family, holds an annual pride parade under the same regulations that allow Northcutt to carry its suicide awareness message.

One stipulation that all private organizations must follow is a Defense Department ban on displaying anything other than approved flags. This means the LGBTQ + family cannot wear rainbow flags on their parades, said Ashley Negrete, group vice president.

A July 2020 note from the secretary of defense bans flags other than the US flag, organizational flags, and unit guidons, although Northcutt occasionally displays a large Mission 22 flag.

Northcutt, a former B-1b Lancer crew chief at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas and a mechanic at the base’s Aero Club, said his time in Yokota for Mission 22 comes from ‘a personal sense of mission. He lost his cousin and two friends to suicide.

“I got tired of the leaders standing in front of coffins and talking about how great the military was,” he said.

Yokota for Mission 22 does not replace organizations like Military One Source and the Chaplain Corps, Northcutt said. But he hopes he can help guide people to resources, welfare checks and a sense of community.

In September, which is Suicide Awareness Month, Northcutt also stood at his information booth inside the exchange, and he hopes to sponsor more community events in addition to continuing his monthly vigil at the outside the base post office.

“Computer training is not enough to bridge the gap in reaching people on a subject as important as this,” he said. “It’s a difficult subject, but I hope I can slowly get more reception and encourage people to stop when they see me holding my sign.”

Erica Comte



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