PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. - Nineteen years ago Kevin Hines jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge hoping to end his life. On Sept. 6 he asked thousands of people at the Presidio of Monterey to stand up and commit to themselves and those around them to "be here tomorrow."
Hines is one of only 39 people to survive the fall from the iconic California landmark and only one of five with full function of their body. He credits his survival to an immediate decision to keep living, quickly flipping from a head-first dive to a feet-first landing, and to a nearby sea lion who kept him afloat until rescuers came.
He told the audience at the Price Fitness Center, if someone had just said, 'Hey kid are you OK?' to the then-19-year-old Hines, he wouldn't have made the fateful jump; but the only interaction he had as he walked along the edge of the bridge was a couple asking him to take their photograph. They ignored the tears streaming down his face and he jumped 20 feet from where he took the photo.
After his story of survival, Hines asked them not be like the dozens that passed him as he walked to his ill-chosen fate 19 years ago and to "voice their pain" when they began to think of suicide as a solution.
Hines' visit comes a year after the active-duty military suffered its deadliest year in number of suicides. A report recently published by the Defense Suicide Prevention Office said that in 2018 there were 325 active-duty suicides, an increase of 40 deaths from 2017, surpassing the previous high of 321 in 2012. The latest Veterans Affairs report on suicide, published in 2018, reported that veteran suicide is 1.5 times the rate of the general population.
Airman 1st Class Haylee Miesse, 517th Training Group, has heard Hines twice now and as a bay chief - a junior enlisted peer leader - she's noticed the impact he makes on her fellow Airmen.
"There's a whole line of Airmen lined up to talk to him," Miesse said mentioning the 30 person deep procession of troops lined up to speak with Hines after his presentation.
"He could have very easily helped them today," she added.
Hines told Presidio Public Affairs he relishes the opportunity to speak to the military. "It's my favorite thing to do in suicide prevention," said Hines. "I really find solace in reaching our military service members who are in pain because often they aren't talking about it and they keep it inside."
Hines called his visit a success. He said multiple people sought out health care professionals after his presentations including one on the verge of suicide.
He added that after he leaves the Presidio he hopes those who hurt don't suffer in silence and turn to suicide as a solution.
"Turn to anyone near you and tell them 'I need help now,' and say it over and over until someone gives you that help," he said.
If you need to speak to someone, call the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, press 1, for assistance, or text 838255.