USAG Ansbach walks, runs, wears yellow to bring awareness to suicide prevention
September 11, 2013
ANSBACH, Germany (Sept. 11, 2013) -- Bright yellow T-shirts crowded and milled throughout the parking lot of the Urlas Post Exchange Sept. 6. The weather was sunny and cool as the crowd of 341, including Soldiers, Family members and civilians of U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach, prepared for the walk/run to raise awareness of suicide prevention.
The event was organized by the garrison Army Substance Abuse Program, in coordination with Morale, Welfare and Recreation, to commemorate September as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Both Col. Christopher Benson, USAG Ansbach commander, and Col. Vincent H. Torza, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade commander, spoke about the seriousness of the issue.
"Taking time out to put some focus on suicide awareness is important, not only to our community, but to the entire Army and the nation," said Benson to the crowd before the run. "Last year was our highest suicide rate in U.S. Army history. You may have heard that one suicide was too many, that is absolutely correct. Although today is designed to be a fun run -- and I want you to have fun -- let's not forget the seriousness of this month and this topic."
"It's a very sobering topic and we're out here trying to bring awareness to what is happening, not just to our Army, but to our families," said Torza. "There are a lot of suicide issues that go on internal to our families. It's not just the Soldiers we're thinking about, we're thinking about all the family members and what we need to do."
Iesha Richards, prevention coordinator and employee assistance program coordinator for ASAP, also spoke of the serious nature of the issue.
"I know we have a lot of campaigns that go on every month, but this is very important because our Soldiers are suffering," said Richards. "We want to make sure we're taking care of ourselves and we're taking care of our battle buddies.
"We just want to have this type of event so we can bring some kind of empowerment to the community and let everyone know that we all have a hand in suicide prevention," continued Richards. "We're trying to do more than train, we want to get people empowered to know that they can actually have a hand in suicide prevention by going to seek help. If they need help, if they feel they're getting to that point or if they notice that someone else needs help, they feel empowered to say, 'Hey, let me go take you to a professional.'"
Benson echoed this message of empowerment
"We should be empowering ourselves to attack this plague that's going through our Army and through this nation, whether that's assisting someone who needs help, identifying those individuals, or escorting them to those providers," he said.
Some units ran together, bearing their colors along the route. Families and couples jogged together. Some walked their dogs around the route.
The route turned out of the PX parking lot, went past Brainerd Lodge, passed along roads to Urlas Housing and went past the Fire Department Training Center. Along the way there were placards on tripods emphasizing the importance of suicide prevention with facts and advice. The route came back to the PX parking lot where fruit, juice, water and music awaited the participants.
"Other than just feeling kind of gloomy, which is usually how it is when we talk about suicide, we wanted to do something else to it, which is having people feel more motivated to know that we can do something about it," said Richards. "It doesn't have to be a dreadful topic."
"Eat regularly healthy foods and get out and exercise," said Torza in his opening remarks. "That's why we're here. We're going to exercise [and raise] suicide prevention awareness."
"I think the run went pretty smooth," said Sgt. Montrel Dillingham, 3rd Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment (Assault Helicopter). "There was a little bit rough terrain, but on the whole I got a good workout, so I'm very proud of the run."
"We had people from our unit commit suicide last year, and it kind of took a toll on the entire unit, so it's good to see all the people supporting it," said Spc. Brendan McCutcheons.
"Suicide prevention is a serious issue," said Sgt. Marcel Sessoms, who belongs to the same unit as McCutcheons. "I think it is always going to be the biggest issue considering our job requirements, so we came out to show our support."
First Lt. Heather Severt, 12th CAB, also attended with her unit.
"I was out here to support my section; we ran as a section," said Severt. "I'm not the best at [running], but it's great to be among Soldiers and families and support a cause. The energy is great. I really enjoyed it."
Rosa Ramirez had attended the event last year while her husband Sgt. Valentin Ramirez was deployed, but they were both able to attend this year.
"It's something good to do considering what is going on with Soldiers," said Valentin. "It's a good thing to come out and show our support for suicide prevention."
"He was there to support me," said Rosa. "Every time I said 'You go ahead' because I really wanted to walk, he didn't let me. It was good I had the support there."
Several of the Soldiers on the run saw suicide prevention as a matter of empathy and humanity.
"I think it's just being more personal, being more on the personal level as far as talking to Soldiers, getting to know them," said Severt. "That's the key, knowing Soldiers on a personal level and just seeing those potential triggers that could evolve into something else."
"Be there for your Soldiers," said Sessoms. "Notice a change in their behavior, focus more on that Soldier, and make sure they're doing OK and provide them with the necessary resources and where to get the resources they need."
"We're asking people that notice that a battle buddy is having trouble to go and get them help," continued Richards. "We're not asking people to become therapists, we're just pointing them in the right direction, and there are many avenues."
ASAP can be reached at 09802-83-1710 or DSN 467-1710 or by visiting the office at Wing B of Bldg. 5817 at Katterbach Kaserne. A USAG Ansbach chaplain can be reached at 09811-83-7848 or DSN 468-7848. Army Community Service, which provides several classes helpful life skills classes, can be reached at Katterbach Kaserne at 09802-83-2883 or DSN 467-2064/2883 or at Storck Barracks at 09841-83-5351/4555 or DSN 467-5351/4555. Military units have "Ask, Care, Escort" or ACE-trained individuals trained to deal with suicidal individuals. Also, the military crisis line can be reached at 001-800-273-8255. The USAG Ansbach Behavioral Health Clinic can be reached at 09802-83-3393 or DSN 467-3398.
"Behavioral health has gotten a lot better since when I first got in up until now. Soldiers don't really think to go there until somebody suggests it," said Sessoms. "But even if it becomes a recurring thing where you talk to them just because, which is kind of how I use them, day-to-day, I would actually encourage Soldiers to visit those institutions a lot."
"There are so many community members just waiting to help Soldiers, the families and our community members here," said Richards.