Veterans continue to take their own lives at an alarming rate. Current statistics show that 20 are committing suicide each day. All services have programs in place to help reduce, and maybe someday eliminate, suicide. They all also have a lot of "mandatory" training which, due to the frequency, and the type, (can you say Power point?) causes said servicemembers to lose focus on the fact that it's a serious problem that has not improved much in the past decade.
While some of the training can be mind numbing, check the box stuff, there's no doubt that our military leadership does care about its troops.
Finding creative ways to draw positive attention and awareness to suicide prevention is the challenge.
Which leads us to the 'Care for 22' program at the 593rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The unit introduced the program during its Suicide Stand Down Days Sep 22 and 23.
Senior Leaders conducted the training on the first day and then Staff Sgt. and below on the 23rd.
"Care for 22 is adapted from a video starring football legend Emmitt Smith called 'Remembering the 22,' prior to 2014 the daily suicide rate for veterans was 22 per day," says 593rd ESC Deputy Command Chaplain Maj. Mijikai Mason who came up with the idea for "Care for 22."
Mason says they intentionally left out the words 'suicide prevention' because surveys he's conducted since 2005 show that Soldiers are burned out on the over-marketing of the word suicide and suicide prevention.
"Moving the word suicide to a number that can be reduced creates both a personal and team goal for reducing one of the Army's most difficult problems," says Mason.
He says on the psychological side, most manageable depression and stress occurs because of three reasons: poor goal setting, the inability to problem solve, and feelings of hopelessness, which can lead to suicide.
All of which are tackled during the training.
The 593rd's headquarters company and subordinate brigades were tasked with providing four teams each of 22 participants consisting of Soldiers, family members and DoD civilians.
Teams then completed a 'circuit competition' featuring 22 stations, each having a Master Resilience and Physical Readiness training event, all stretched out along a 2.2 mile route around Fort Lewis North.
Unit ministry team members, Chaplains and Chaplains Assistants and Master Resilience trainers from each unit assisted as station leaders.
Army Master Resilience Trainers support Soldiers and their families in the development of mental, physical, emotional, and behavioral toughness. Resiliency training is designed to help people cope with adversity, adapt to change and overcome challenges.
Each station gave each team a goal, a plan on how to achieve the completion of the circuit, and a sense of purpose.
At one station for example, the resilience training was called character strengths where the group had to name character strengths that allow leaders to solve problems and become more effective leaders.
"If they can participate in the events and solve them here they will be able to instill hope in themselves and others," says Mason.
Once the team 'solved' the problem they then had to complete a physical readiness training event before being allowed to continue to the next station.
After all teams completed the full circuit MRT's and Chaplains conducted a check on learning before the team was released for personal hygiene.
Part two of the training was classroom based suicide prevention, intervention and 'life affirming' skills training at the Lewis North Chapel.
It opened with comments from 593rd ESC leadership followed by suicide awareness training, yes, some PowerPoint, but mostly interactive and video based, and survival testimony from a Soldier who lost his wife to suicide.
The afternoon featured six elective classes in topics such as "Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships, Anger Management and Spiritual Resiliency," participants had to complete four of the six.
In between the classes participants could visit booths set up in a "Resiliency Expo," that featured key JBLM suicide prevention resources such as Armed Forces Community Services, the Military and Family Life Counseling Program as well as the JBLM Substance Abuse Program and a number of representatives from installation religious organizations.
"We decided to bring the resources to them instead of them having to find the resource," says Mason.
"Suicide care should not be a scavenger hunt." he added.
Soldiers said they like the way the training was conducted.
"It seems like it went by fast, it wasn't boring and it kept me awake because the trainers were speaking with us and making it spontaneous, not just a PowerPoint presentation," said Spec. Chantel Mclean for the 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.
"This is a lot better than other training events I've been to, it's not dry and the people giving the presentations really try to engage you and keep you active and aware," says Pfc. William Blackwood from headquarters and Headquarters Company 593rd ESC.
Maj. Mason says judging by the positive response to "Care for 22" he hopes it catches on with other units and posts.
"Ultimately though, our entire purpose is to see a reduction in that number , so if next year it's 'Care for 15,' all the better," added Mason.