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After the blackout: Missouri Air Guardsman starts life anew

Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Buehler, maintainer with the 131st Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, holds his sobriety coin that reads One Day At A Time Apr. 8, 2016. Buehler demonstrates mental resilience as he has overcome alcoholism and depression by using psychological and mental health resources offered by the National Guard. Mental fitness is one of four pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness in AFI 90-506. Buehler credits his supervisors with saving his career. But, Buehler isn't the only one facing this issue. Suicide is one of the most urgent problems facing the Department of Defense and society. Among the reserves and National Guard, 88 Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine reservists died by suicide in 2015, while 100 Army National Guard members and 21 Air National Guardsmen killed themselves, according to a recent DoD report. The Guard has ongoing education and training programs, as well as psychological health professionals who help create a protective and resilient culture within the wings. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Halley Burgess/RELEASED)

Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Buehler, maintainer with the 131st Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, holds his sobriety coin that reads One Day At A Time Apr. 8, 2016. Buehler demonstrates mental resilience as he has overcome alcoholism and depression by using psychological and mental health resources offered by the National Guard. Mental fitness is one of four pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness in AFI 90-506. Buehler credits his supervisors with saving his career. But, Buehler isn't the only one facing this issue. Suicide is one of the most urgent problems facing the Department of Defense and society. Among the reserves and National Guard, 88 Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine reservists died by suicide in 2015, while 100 Army National Guard members and 21 Air National Guardsmen killed themselves, according to a recent DoD report. The Guard has ongoing education and training programs, as well as psychological health professionals who help create a protective and resilient culture within the wings. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Halley Burgess/RELEASED)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Being told what he'd done while blacked out from heavy drinking didn't scare Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Buehler. It was a regular occurrence for the 131st Bomb Wing Citizen-Airman.

This time, however, he woke up in a hospital bed to learn that he'd intentionally cut his own leg 30 times, fought with six police officers and had to be wrestled into an ambulance.

Buehler used that event - and his unit's intervention - as a springboard to his recovery from depression and alcohol abuse to the new life he's living today. 

"Three years ago, I started entering a state of depression," said Buehler. "It came from a suppressed resentment and anger toward my dad, who didn't appreciate the lifestyle I was living."

That lifestyle was one that included partying hard and not letting anyone out-drink him, said Buehler, who is a maintainer with the 131st Maintenance Group.

"I always want to be the best, and that meant I wasn't going to let anyone drink more than I did," he said.

That alcohol use began to cause problems for the husband and father of three girls.

"In January 2014, my wife and I started having trouble," Buehler said. "One night, I went out but didn't come home. She warned me that we'd be done if it happened again. That happened just two weeks later. She left."

Forced away from his family, the full-time technician leaned more heavily on alcohol to bury his concerns. That only amplified his depression and drove him deeper into despair, he said.

"I was here, but I wasn't doing anything," he continued. "My boss would walk by and tell me, 'Snap out of it. You're better than this.' But, I didn't care. I'd leave, go drink somewhere and then drive home."

One of those nights, Buehler went home and put a gun to his head. He was so drunk that he passed out while debating if he should end his life.

The second time he did this, he called a friend who talked him out of it. A third time, he passed out again and woke with the gun in his hand. He knew he had to do something.

"I called a buddy to come take my guns," said Buehler.

Although his friend took the firearms, Buehler still had a seven-inch tactical knife. He began intentionally cutting himself as a coping mechanism.

On March 24, 2014, Buehler woke up in a hospital. He didn't remember the night before. He was told that while drunk, he had cut and stabbed himself 25 or 30 times with the combat knife. He had called a friend for help, and his friend showed up - as did six police officers.

During a 45-minute altercation with the police that involved two drawn guns and pepper spray, Buehler was wrestled into an ambulance stretcher and driven to a Kansas City hospital.

"That was the lowest I had gotten," said Buehler. "I knew something had to happen. Cheryl (Reed, the then 131st BW psychological health manager) and shirt came to talk to me and I learned about some treatments." 

With their guidance, he started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for help and began one-on-one counseling at least two times per month - and more when necessary.

"Thanks to my supervisors who knew me, they didn't want to get rid of me," Buehler said. "They saved my career. They knew the person I was and knew that wasn't me."

He continues to go through an alcohol dependency program.

"I've been sober since March 25 (2014). I've been doing well. I got all of my certifications back. I basically was a new Airman."

Buehler has rebuilt his reputation and now supervises half a dozen Airmen, ensuring maintenance on the B-2 Spirit.

Buehler isn't the only one facing this issue. Suicide is one of the most urgent problems facing the Department of Defense and society. Among the reserves and National Guard, 88 Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine reservists died by suicide in 2015, while 100 Army National Guard members and 21 Air National Guardsmen killed themselves, according to a recent DoD report. Overcoming alcohol dependence and the urge to kill himself was a mental challenge, according to Buehler - and one he struggled to tackle on his own.

To help, the Guard has ongoing education and training programs, as well as psychological health professionals who help create a protective and resilient culture within the wings, said Bethany Harris, director of psychological health for the 131st.

"Psychological fitness includes mental and emotional strengths that aid you in coping positively with every day as well as unique life challenges," said Harris. "When we talk about suicide, we look at risks, but we also look at protective factors. Those are positive behaviors and supportive connections that can help protect against stress and promote effective coping."

Those behaviors fall into the four Air Force Comprehensive Airman Fitness pillars. They may include positive relationships (social and mental pillars), coping skills (mental pillar) and positive beliefs (mental and spiritual pillars), said Harris.

"The Air Force has many resources to aid our wingmen and promote psychological fitness," she said. "Early intervention and help-seeking behaviors are imperative." A handy resource is the Wingman Toolkit mobile app or the wingmantoolkit.org website.

With the help of friends, co-workers and his unit, Buehler's recovery demonstrates strong mental resilience.

While rebuilding his career, he's also had to rebuild his relationship with his daughters and ex-wife. His girls enjoy riding in his truck, going swimming or playing games when they see each other twice a week and every other weekend.

"We have a great relationship and do what we can with the time I have with them," he said. "They knew the person I was before, and hopefully they feel I'm back to normal now."

Resources to get help can be found at http://www.wingmantoolkit.org/  or https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/BeThere.aspx or call 1-800-272-8255 (Press 1) or Text:  838255..