By Angelika Lantz, 21st TSC Public AffairsMarch 12, 2009
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany - Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
That is one of the tenets the 21st Theater Sustainment Command hopes its Soldiers and civilians will take away from the suicide prevention and intervention training held at the theater on Kleber Kaserne recently.
In light of rising suicide rates in the Army and in response to a directive by the chief of staff of the Army, the 21st TSC conducted a suicide prevention training stand-down March 5 and 9. Attendance was mandatory for Soldiers and Army civilian employees.
"A lot of DA civilians are former military and come from a culture where 'manly men' did not admit to any type of mental anguish. And we can't deny that there still is a stigma associated with seeking mental health care in the military. That's why it's very important that we reach as many people as possible with this training," said Capt. Ramon Torres, the commander of the 21st TSC's 147th Postal Company.
The 21st TSC used the interactive suicide prevention training video, "Beyond the Front," which is currently being shown Army-wide. As each real-life and war-time vignette unfolded, the audience had to choose the next step to best help the Soldier in distress. Incorrect options would have led to the Soldier taking his life.
"The video reminded me of a lot of situations I have encountered as a Soldier and as a Chaplain. With our nation at war for more than seven years now, and our profession as hazardous as it is, we need to realize that there are many unique stressors. We have to be able to see the flags, the warning signs," said Lt. Col. William McCoy, the 21st TSC's deputy command chaplain.
The video, like the training itself, focuses on reducing the stigma associated with seeking mental health care, on increasing awareness of the risk factors and warning signs, on demonstrating how to seek help and on teaching that everyone should be actively engaged with the care of family members and friends they are concerned about.
"Know what to do. Do it well. Do it early. Even more important, by showing our fellow Soldiers and civilians that we truly care, we can create a wonderful caring work environment," said Col. Thomas MacGregor, the 21st TSC's command chaplain.
The role of leadership and the importance of responsibility play key roles also.
"We all assume the role of sensors. We all have the responsibility of looking out for our battle buddies," said Capt. Randy Brooks, HHC commander, 21st TSC.
"The intent of the interactive video is to solicit different perspectives and different decision making points from the learners that should help them in their personal life as well as with their buddy care," said MacGregor.
The second training phase of the suicide prevention and intervention program, which consists of follow-on chain-teaching, will run from March 15 through June 15.
A concurrent and ongoing third phase will emphasize "sustainment" by reviewing lessons learned from the previous two phases.
The training comes after a spike in suicides in the Army during the last four years, which is particularly troubling since Army suicide rates tended to be lower than the average suicide rate for male civilians in the same age group.
According to an Army press release, there were 128 confirmed and 15 probable suicides last year, up from 115 in 2007. Additionally, the Army has confirmed seven suicides and is investigating 19 other deaths so far in 2009 already.