Virginia guard hosts suicide prevention trainer course

More than 89 Soldiers from Virginia and across the country complete the Department of the Army’s “Ask, Care, Escort – Suicide Intervention” train-the-trainer workshop hosted by the Virginia Army National Guard Suicide Prevention Program April 29 – May 2, 2014, at the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute, as part of the Army’s on-going efforts to prevent suicide. (Photo by Capt. Andrew J. Czaplicki, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

More than 89 Soldiers from Virginia and across the country complete the Department of the Army’s “Ask, Care, Escort – Suicide Intervention” train-the-trainer workshop hosted by the Virginia Army National Guard Suicide Prevention Program April 29 – May 2, 2014 at the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute, as part of the Army’s on-going efforts to prevent suicide. (Photo by Capt. Andrew J. Czaplicki, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. – More than 89 Soldiers from Virginia and across the country completed the Department of the Army’s “Ask, Care, Escort – Suicide Intervention” train-the-trainer workshop hosted by the Virginia Army National Guard Suicide Prevention Program April 29- May 2, 2014, at the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute, as part of the Army’s on-going efforts to prevent suicide.

The ACE-SI workshop is a minimum six-hour training module for company-level junior leaders and first-line supervisors, including squad and section leaders, platoon sergeants, platoon leaders, first sergeants, executive officers, company commanders, and Army civilians. Following completion of this workshop, participants will support the growing cadre of ACE-SI instructors and be expected to conduct ACE-SI training in their units.

According to the course materials, this target audience is in the most frequent contact with the most at-risk demographic for suicide: 18-24 years old Soldiers.

The key objective of the ACE-SI workshop is to teach the skills needed to intervene in a suicide situation. One of the instructors, Terry Moran, commented that “part of the class is to help us see more clearly, and make more decisive decisions.”

Although the training focuses on military and Army civilians, the content of the course, which includes communication skills, risks and protective factors, stigma, warning signs, intervention skills, and the ACE method of suicide prevention, can also benefit Guardsmen in their civilian careers and families.

The workshop is designed to be highly interactive and requires small-group exercises and discussions. Every vignette and scenario discussed during the training was pulled from actual events or investigations to provide the most realistic and applicable training possible.

Gary Westling, program manager and lead instructor, stated that “the Army considers suicide an enemy and one that they take seriously.” According to the Department of the Army, the U.S. Army lost the equivalent of two entire brigade combat teams, or 60 platoons of Soldiers, since 2003. Moran said that “leaders, particularly leaders at your level, are going to be the ones that are going to bend the curve,” referring to a line graph showing an upward trend of Army suicides over the past 10 years.

Part of the course asked participants to describe what the Army, their units, and they themselves were doing to promote suicide awareness and prevention. Many having extensive experience with high-tempo operations and overseas deployments acknowledged that every Soldier has bad days, but leaders must recognize when he or she isn’t being his or herself and take action.

Westling described four tenants of suicide prevention: create a climate to encourage asking for help, if needed; know your Soldiers so you know when behavior changes; encourage peer support; and help all your Soldiers integrate into the unit.

To further explain creating an encouraging climate to ask for help, Moran said that “to change the culture in a large institution like ours, takes time and the individual effort of every person in the Army.”

First Sgt. Kevin Rowland, 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, reinforced one of the tenants by saying, “I shouldn’t know a squad leader’s Soldier better than that squad leader—bottom line!”

Moran asked several members of the course to describe their unit’s sponsorship and welcome programs focusing primarily on the importance of unit integration. His point was made clear after stating that “when we are most vulnerable is when we are in transition.” He then reiterated the importance of a robust and well-developed sponsorship and welcome programs.

Bryan Hicks, Virginia Army National Guard Suicide Prevention Program Manager, said, “The training conducted this week was well received by all who attended, as we had members from states as far away as Georgia and Connecticut. It is designed to provide front-line leaders the tools to help identify ‘at risk’ and ‘high-risk’ Soldiers, enabling early intervention, and ultimately save lives.”

The training is not intended to make participants subject matter experts in behavioral health nor clinicians.

The Army Suicide Prevention Program has been in existence since 1984. Since, 2001, the Army has increased emphasis on preventative and intervention measures, directing leaders to take ownership of the program and synchronize and integrate resources at every level to mitigate risks.

Anyone with additional questions about pursuing help for Soldiers can contact the Army suicide prevention program at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or by visiting the official suicide prevention webpage at http://www.preventsuicide.army.mil.