February 25, 2009

Virginia Army National Guard begins suicide prevention training

By Maj. Cotton Puryear
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

RICHMOND, Va. — Soldiers from the Virginia Army National Guard began conducting suicide prevention training during drill weekends Feb. 21-22 as part of an Army-wide suicide prevention training stand-down. The purpose of the stand-down is to provide training and awareness regarding risk factors related to suicidal behavior and to identify Soldiers at risk for suicide and how to intervene appropriately. All Virginia National Guard units are scheduled to conduct the training in March.

“The Virginia National Guard has made a huge commitment to get this training accomplished as part of the Army-wide stand-down to ensure that our Soldiers are aware of the warning signs and risk factors associated with suicide,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Stewart, the Virginia Army National Guard Suicide Prevention Program Coordinator.

Units from the Virginia National Guard’s Richmond-based 91st Troop Command and the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regional Training Institute conducted the training at armories in Richmond, Manassas, Virginia Beach and Fort Pickett Feb. 21 and 22.

The U.S. Army directed that all Active, Reserve and National Guard units will conduct a stand-down from Feb.15 to March 15, 2009 to conduct suicide prevention training.

According to National Guard Bureau, the Army National Guard had 42 suicides in 2008 with another 16 cases still pending determination, and 59 in 2007. According to the Virginia Army National Guard Personnel Office, the Virginia Army National Guard had three reported suicides in 2007 and three in 2008.

In the first phase of the training, Stewart trained senior leaders on the program and how to facilitate the training in their units. From there, leaders are conducting training for their Soldiers.

“Training the leaders and having them conduct the training not only demonstrates their commitment to suicide prevention, but it also gives them a chance to interact with their Soldiers and observe how they react to the training,” Stewart said.

The training program features an interactive video where Soldiers view two scenarios, one focused on a Soldier who begins to show signs of suicide risk and the other focuses on a senior noncommissioned officer and how he handles seeing a fellow Soldier showing signs of suicide risk, Stewart explained.

The video is played in segments, and at the end of each segment, a number of options are presented. The training facilitator discusses with the group what course of action would be best to take, with the goal to get the at-risk Soldiers the help they need.

“I think this was very good, very effective training,” said Col. Steve Scott, commander of 91st Troop Command. “Many of my Soldiers said this was the best quality training aid they have experienced, and my leaders report that the guidance and techniques they received from the training will assist them with dealing with these issues in their units.”

The training also stresses that Soldiers should not feel ashamed to seek help, and this represents a change in mindset that makes seeking mental health less of a stigma, said Chap. (Maj.) J. D. Moore, the Virginia Army National Guard’s full-time support chaplain. Moore has been an Army chaplain since 1996, and he said he has seen great improvement in recent years in attitudes about Soldiers seeking and receiving mental health counseling.

Moore said in the past year, Soldiers in need of assistance have been identified by fellow Soldiers, friends and family members. From there, he worked to find assistance for those Soldiers. “Depending on the Soldiers status, we will seek treatment options through local health care providers or the Veterans Administration medical facilities,” Moore said.

Since Soldiers in the Virginia National Guard are not always working together on an Army post like active duty Soldiers, Moore stressed the importance of family, friends and community members watching for warning signs and seeking help when Soldiers are identified as being at risk.

Anyone with additional questions about getting help for Soldiers can contact Moore by phone in his office at 434-298-6106 or by mobile phone at 434-292-9054.  

“I think the training has gone very well,” said Sgt. Seth John Alexander, a Soldier assigned to 91st Troop Command. “In the past, a Soldier might not have known what to do or where to go to help a battle buddy, but now they do.”

More on the Web:

Army Guard participates in stand-down

U.S. Army Announces Suicide Prevention "Stand Down"

Army G-1 Suicide Prevention

U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine

Army Well Being

National Suicide Hotline - 1-800-SUICIDE

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