CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea -- The efforts made in Area I last year to help combat suicide, including a stage drama with an all-Soldier cast, have been chosen by the Pentagon as the best such efforts in the entire U.S. Army.
The recognition came in the form of a certificate of appreciation presented to Area I senior leaders Jan. 23 on Camp Red Cloud in Uijeongbu by the Pentagon's top suicide prevention official, Dr. Keita Franklin, Director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office. Franklin is responsible for policy and oversight of suicide prevention programs within the Department of Defense.
The certificate recognizes Area I for "exceptional and innovative efforts" during Suicide Prevention Month, September 2016.
During a brief ceremony Franklin presented the certificate to Col. Brandon D. Newton, Commander, U.S. Army Garrison Red Cloud and Area I, and Command Sgt. Maj. Michael L. Berry, the garrison's senior enlisted leader. Also present were Maj. Gen. Theodore D. "Ted" Martin, Commanding General, 2nd Infantry Division/ROK-U.S. Combined Division, whose Soldiers performed in the play and were otherwise key in Area I's suicide prevention effort last September.
In remarks at the ceremony, Franklin said the suicide prevention drama had been a standout aspect of Area I's suicide prevention efforts last year. The drama, titled "Open Door," was made up of cast and supporting crew drawn from various Area I units, including the Combined Division and the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, which last year served a nine-month Korea rotation with the Combined Division.
The play was written by Russell Jordan, Risk Reduction Program Coordinator with USAG Red Cloud and Area I, and performed last September before enthusiastic Soldier audiences on Camp Casey in Dongducheon and Camp Red Cloud.
"Your community has increased awareness that suicide can be prevented and encouraged Service members, their families, and DoD civilians to Be There for each other," the certificate reads in part.
In addition, according to the certificate, Area I "has embraced an environment where a person's request for help is a sign of strength, where we each know the warning signs and can identify those in need, and where we leverage safe and effective treatments and technologies in restoring health. Your commitment to excellence and to each other reflects great credit upon your installation, the U.S. Army, and the Department of Defense."
In an interview after the ceremony, Franklin said Area I was recognized in part because of a variety of quality actions it took during Suicide Prevention Month and that those efforts were marked by a "true focus" on Soldiers being ready to support each other in helping prevent suicide.
"We saw that throughout their entire package, and so we're happy to be out here to recognize that."
Her office received 29 packets from units seeking recognition for their suicide prevention efforts, Franklin said, and Area I's submission, especially because of the play, stood out.
"Traditionally what we see is the delivery of material in traditional ways, PowerPoint presentations, training seminars," said Franklin. "But to deliver it in the style of a play in such a creative way, that I think probably allowed for folks to learn the material better, learn the material in a creative way that sinks in, in a way that can help them think of their own role in saving lives.
"So it's very, very significant 'cause there's one that was issued across the Army," she said of the certificate of recognition, "and it's here at Area I.
"So 29 packages came in for recognition, and people self-nominated, and so they really had to go through the rigor of designing, strategically planning, a Suicide Prevention Month that lasted the whole month of September and set the stage for 11 more months of sustainment of the campaign, and they had to embrace doing that, and Area I did just that, so it's truly remarkable," said Franklin.
Jordan, who wrote the play in 2014 while working at Fort Bliss, Texas, voiced surprise and satisfaction at the recognition.
"It was a surprise," he said, "because there's so many other organizations out there as far as the Army's concerned and they have great suicide prevention programs, so we feel honored that they selected."
He contacted most of the Soldiers who'd been involved with the play and told them news of the recognition. "And they were honored to know that they were a part of an event which was recognized" by the Pentagon, Jordan said.
Newton said Warrior Country had made a robust effort to put across to Soldiers the importance of suicide prevention.
"What the garrison did in September was, almost every single day there was something that tried to bring awareness of suicide -- of what to do -- in the forefront," said Newton.
"In a very non-standard and creative way the Soldiers and the professionals in the garrison were able to take something and just through their own constant effort make it into something that was not what Soldiers had seen in every other place they had been," Newton said. "The play was an example of that.
"Of course being the best program in the entire Army is good too," said Newton, "but I think what really means a lot to me is we were able to take a problem and work some creative solutions to try to bring the attention to that problem, to Soldiers, in a way they would understand, as opposed to just your standard delivery of platform-based classroom PowerPoint instruction."
The role of Soldiers from a variety of units in Area I had proved crucial to last year's Suicide Prevention effort in Area I, Newton said.
"The garrison professionals who designed the program and kind of led the structure could not have had that happen without the participation from units, and Soldiers," he said.
Those Soldiers included junior enlisted, noncommissioned officers, members of the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) program, and from various units in Area I.
"It would not have been possible without units from rotational brigade--from 1st Cavalry Division -- Soldiers from 2nd Infantry Division and other 8th Army units that are in Area I," Newton said.
The presentation ceremony, at Mitchell's Community Club and Conference Center, was followed by a suicide prevention discussion led by Franklin and attended by about 25 others, mostly U.S. Army mental health professionals, chaplains, and others involved in helping the Army prevent suicide. Franklin was accompanied during her Area I visit by another official of the Pentagon's Suicide Prevention Office, Wendy Lakso, its Director for Outreach and Education.