Big Red One Soldier Saves Life by 'ASIST'ing Friend
November 4, 2011
When Spc. Alex-Ray Link arrived home that Monday night this past October, his first thought once he walked passed his door was to change out of his uniform and kick back.
One phone call a few minutes later and his night would then be thrown in a very different direction.
The call was from one of Link's close friends; the pair had been roommates in the barracks more than two years before, following Link's arrival to Fort Riley, Kan.
"He didn't sound too good. His voice was going up and down, sounding real depressed," Link recalls. He was then instantly on his way to friend's house to make sure everything was ok.
"I knocked on his door and I heard crying. At first I thought it was his wife and that something had happened," Link said. "I immediately let myself in and found him in the back room crying."
He quickly learned his friend had been drinking heavily and was upset about issues with his Family since his recent return home from deployment.
"He just came out and flat out said he wanted to end his life," Link recalled solemnly.
Nearly two weeks before, Link, a specialist with Company C, 601st Aviation Support Battalion, Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, had completed the Army's Applied Suicide Intervention Skill Training (ASIST). The two-day ASIST workshops are designed to train Soldiers in a range of suicide-prevention and intervention skills.
Once completed, it certifies the Soldier as a 'gatekeeper,' which qualifies them to join the Soldiers Saving Soldiers program. The objective of SSS is exactly as it says in the title, said David Easterling, the suicide prevention program manager at Fort Riley. It gives Soldiers such as Link, the skills they need to intervene and save a fellow Soldier's life in the event of a crisis, he added.
"(The training) just came back to me as soon as I walked in there and I saw what was going on, and as soon as he said he wanted to kill himself, that's when everything came right back," Link said.
Link stayed with his friend throughout the night and as the evening wore on, their conversation got progressively easier and his friend's list of reasons for ending his life became exceedingly shorter.
The training instructs the Soldiers to ask the person contemplating suicide why they feel they would need to end their life, Easterling said.
"We really teach them to talk about the reasons for living and the reasons for dying and to help them understand that aspect. We're telling them, 'You have to get them to open up. You have to listen to their reasons for dying. And imprinted in those reasons for dying will be their reasons for living. You'll be able to find out what it is that they truly value and help them through that healing process," Easterling said.
Easterling also commended Link for the strength he exhibited while assisting his friend in a time of need.
"It's very easy to say 'You know what, dude? This is your issue, your problem; you go deal with that. I don't want to deal with someone who's crying or falling apart.' We actually have to listen to them and show compassion and empathy and help them. It's giving suicide first aid. And that's what Spc. Link did."
Link succeeded that evening in preventing his friend from taking his own life and has since aided him in receiving behavioral health support.
The ASIST instructors may have given Link the knowledge to ask the right questions, but the internal fortitude was something he already possessed, Easterling praised of Link's success in saving his friend that night.
"I am exceptionally proud and I feel blessed to be able to serve beside such an outstanding Soldier like Spc. Link," said Capt. Lisa Halvorson, Link's company commander. "Spc. Link was both intelligent enough to understand the purpose of the course and intuitive enough to put those skills into action."
The course is offered multiple times a month and even though it currently is not required for every Soldier to attend, Halvorson is diligently trying to do just that for her company.
"Since being encouraged by the policies of my commanding officers and personally attending the ASIST/Gatekeeper course on Fort Riley, I have been tirelessly promoting this program and consistently pushing for 100 percent of (Co. C) Soldiers to be certified," she said.
For the time being, one of her unit's Soldiers will be permanently remembered for his success in using the skills he gained from completing the program.
Easterling said Link's photo will be added to the 'Hall of Fame' in Fort Riley's building 7424, where it will join other Soldiers who took it upon themselves to take initiative and assist a fellow servicemember through a difficult time.
"It's always great to hear a success story. We have them that happen frequently on Fort Riley because of the training," Easterling said. "(Link) could have very easily said 'Ok, just let me call your chain of command' and let them deal with it. It takes personal courage, and that's an Army Value, for an individual to step up and say 'I'm going to intervene and I'm going to do what I know is right.' That's something that comes with Spc. Link."