"ASISTing" a fellow Soldier
September 28, 2012
FORT CAMPBELL, Kentucky--Imagine it has been a rough day at work, and marital problems have left life at home in an endless rut. While crossing a bridge during the drive home those thoughts about suicide begin to materialize into actions. You've decided you want to end your life.
This is the story shared by Staff Sgt. Shane Birdsong as he stood on a ledge. One step forward would be certain death, but one step backwards, with the right help, would be a life saved. Luckily, Birdsong had the assistance nearby that he needed.
Birdsong, a chaplain's assistant for the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, turned the attention to his counterpart, Sgt. Randall Winsett, also a chaplain' assistant with the Medical Department Activities. Winsett addressed the group of 101st Sustainment Brigade Soldiers taking part in the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, Sept. 25-26.
Someone in the classroom, Winsett said, needs to relate to this suicidal individual and bring him down off the ledge--which was actually just a chair.
"The ASIST training is intended to provide Soldiers with the necessary tools to intervene in someone's life who is suicidal," said Maj. Erik Spicer, chaplain for the 101st Sust. Bde.
Day one of the two-day course places an emphasis on individual's personal experiences and understanding the program's methodology through a system called the Suicide Intervention Model, Spcier said. The second day implements those ideas through role-playing scenarios.
Soldiers take turns responding to actors like Birdsong in an effort to save their lives.
Four other Soldiers had tried to persuade Birdsong to step down, but no one had accomplished this yet.
Pfc. Cornelia Holdsclaw was hesitant to try at first but decided to give it a shot at the request of several others in the group.
Holdsclaw said at first she didn't really know what to say, but soon found herself using the three methods the course taught: connect with the individual, try and understand their situation and provide assistance to them.
"Is this something that you really want to do?" Holdsclaw asked.
"If you hadn't come along, I would've already jumped," Birdsong lamented.
"Well, you haven't jumped yet, so I'd say you definitely have the ability to overcome this," Holdsclaw said.
Holdsclaw, who hails from Statesville, N.C., knows all too well what role Birdsong was playing. A day earlier, she admitted for the first time in public that she too was on the verge of suicide earlier this year while on deployment.
"Yesterday helped me tremendously," she said.
The ASIST course has been around the Army for a while, stated Spicer, a native of Pocola, Okla. He said he plans to train all of the brigade's military police, 10 percent of the Soldiers in each battalion, and 10 percent of the Soldiers living in the barracks within the brigade.
"This is something every Soldier should have," said Master Sgt. Rory Semelroth, 561st Military Police Company, 716th Military Police Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade. "It gives us a deeper toolkit to intervene when someone is contemplating suicide."
Semelroth, who calls Keystone, Iowa, his home, said he feels the course provides the skills to identify and recognize the signs of suicide in an individual, and make a connection with them to find out why they want to die.