SSgt Tanner Volkers
By Melissa, Tanner's Mother
From the very start, everyone, including strangers, would always comment on what a happy and beautiful baby I had. Tanner’s smile lit up this world for almost 23 years. I know he was the light of mine.
Tanner was born on March 6, 1991 in Nampa, Idaho. He graduated from high school in 2009. He left for boot camp 21 days after he graduated in 2009. Right after boot camp he went to the firefighting school and left to his station in Alaska on January 1, 2010 where he stayed until he died.
Tanner had a love for firefighting and for his country as well. This started early on and continued until his death. He always loved the sounds of sirens and seeing the fire trucks. Growing up, Tanner was an active member in FFA, and an Eagle Scout. He was Smokey The Bear for fire prevention throughout the fair, something he loved doing!
When Tanner was 14 he decorated the entire house for the 4th of July and the local TV station came out to interview him and that’s when Tanner told everyone that he wanted to serve his country and couldn’t wait to do that. They asked him if he was afraid to die for his country and he said “no”. That was a sacrifice that he was willing to make.
When I was an EMT, I brought an EMS radio home to the house and Tanner would carry that around with him everywhere. It was on 24/7. You couldn’t pry that thing away from him!
Tanner was deployed to Qatar for a period of time in 2012. Upon returning from deployment, he flew into Idaho to surprise our family at the Meridian Raceway one Saturday night during Military Appreciation Night. They had paged me to the booth to ask me to present trophies to the racecar drivers in honor of Tanner’s service to our Country. While this was happening, Tanner came up behind me and stood right beside me until I realized he was there. What a gift!
Tanner was a member of the Explores Program and was a Fire Academy graduate and a Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force. He was assigned to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, in Anchorage, Alaska. Tanner volunteered a great deal in Alaska. He was a Boy Scout Leader, Relay for Life volunteer, and a volunteer for anything where he was needed really. There wasn’t anyone or anything that Tanner did not want to help. Tanner excelled through his training, earning the chance to attend an Alaska Emergency Medical Technician III, normally reserved for far more experienced first responders. He excelled! After earning his Alaska EMT-III certification, Tanner found himself with even greater opportunities to help those around him. Something he always wanted to do and was so gifted at. Utilizing his training, he was able to care for, treat and comfort hundreds of people in the JBER community in their time of need. Over 1/3 of his calls were suicide calls and it really got to him. He promised me he would never do anything like that to himself or to his family. We had many talks about how we might be able to do something together to help get the word out about military suicide and the horrible effects that it has on survivors. Never in a million years did we think it would ever happen to us. Unfortunately, Tanner was not able to keep his promise or save himself.
In the summer of 2013, my husband and I went to stay with Tanner for two weeks. On the last day of our visit, Tanner became very irritable and grouchy. We thought he was just ready for us to go. The day after we left, Tanner phoned to let us know that he was checking himself into the military hospital because he was having thoughts of hurting himself. However, the hospital released him a couple of hours later feeling he was not a threat to himself or others. Someone from the Fire Dept. went to his home and removed all of his guns at the military’s request. They suggested he not be alone that evening and stay with a friend, which he did.
About this time, Tanner was struggling with his duties as Staff Sergeant because he felt like he was failing and that his unit had no respect for him because he was a 22 year old kid. Over the course of several months of discussing this with Tanner, we thought he was doing better. However, the Christmas holiday was looming and Tanner did not want to be alone over the holiday. He desperately wanted to be at home with his family.
On December 7th, Tanner had spoken to his Aunt in the morning and had called home three times that day to talk to me. That early evening, Tanner took a hike on one of his favorite trails and took his own life.
Tanner embodied the Air Force core values of Service, Integrity, and Excellence. He was a hard worker, selfless volunteer, and a true friend. He is deeply missed by his family and friends. Suicide is a decision made out of desperations, hopelessness, isolation and loneliness. I will not allow my son to die in vain. Tanner will never be forgotten.
We must continue to practice empathy and kindness. That’s what Tanner did and that’s what we will do. Not just for Tanner but for all of humanity if we are truly going to make a change in this world. I miss my son.