FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Specialist Norton received a "Dear John" e-mail from his fiancee. Then he watched his best friend die in a firefight. Now, he's contemplating suicide.

The fictitious Norton was the subject of one of the videos in "Beyond the Front," an interactive presentation that served as the basis of suicide-prevention training given to facilitators Feb. 26-27 at Fort Lewis' North Fort Chapel. The facilitators will offer training to Soldiers and Army civilians in their units and directorates on post during individual suicide-prevention "stand-down" days between now and March 15.

The Army lost a record 143 Soldiers to suicide in 2008. This is the first of three phases of training that the Army will offer to address the growing problem.

"This is the initial one," said Chaplain (Maj.) Steve Fry, director of the Fort Lewis Family Life Center, who co-presented the training with Lt. Col. Gary Southwell, chief of psychology at Madigan Army Medical Center. "There's a phase two with a different video that hasn't been released yet. And then phase three is the sustainment training."

Fry pointed out that the "Beyond the Front" videos form the core of the first phase of training.

"All this stuff is really realistic," Fry said. "It's flexible. There's a bunch of discussion questions. The scenarios are the meat of the thing. I think the really good thing about this is it's interactive."

Dozens of facilitators attended the training last week.

"Since this is facilitator training, we're kind of more or less showing them all the options and also kind of modeling a way to teach it," Fry said. "The largest part is modeling and teaching how to teach it."

Among attendees was Carlee Sloan of the Directorate of Logistics' Installation Supply Division. Sloan is a retired sergeant major.

"I thought that the whole (training) was simply outstanding," said Sloan, adding that it was "just a great way to get the message out."

Sloan noted that the videos included "excellent scenarios" and said that he felt the training would help him successfully train others.

"I felt comfortable when I left there," Sloan said. "I understand the importance of it."

Lydia Ostle of Public Works also found the training valuable.

"It taught me how just a single comment can make a difference in someone's outlook and what they will do," Ostle said. "Suicide prevention should be an ongoing training, as I think people forget what to watch for.

"Sometimes we get so caught up in our own lives, we start to forget about the people that might need us the most - our family, friends and co-workers."

Fry said that units and directorates will arrange their own stand-down days, consisting of two- to four-hour presentations, before March 15.

"The whole guts to this thing," said Fry, "is to encourage the people to talk and to get help."

Bob Reinert is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Thu March 5th, 2009 at 19:00