By Jerome MappJuly 25, 2019
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- The facts are sobering and tragic: each day more than 20 veterans commit suicide. In the Army alone, no less than 250 and no more than 300 active-duty Soldiers take their own lives. The grim legacy? Grieving loved ones and many unanswered questions.
Here at Eskan Village, three Soldiers are committed to doing something to reverse and, hopefully, end that sad statistic.
Chaplain (Maj.) Ross Wood, the command chaplain for the Office of the Program Manager-Saudi Arabian National Guard, and 1st Sgt. James Munro and Sgt. 1st Class April Millington, both assigned to the Ministry of the Interior-Military Advisory Group, conducted an ambitious two-day suicide intervention-prevention training program July 16-17 called LivingWorks Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training.
The training was conducted in a classroom setting where military formalities were dispensed and uniformed attendees were encouraged to wear civilian attire to create a relaxed setting. They even referred to each other by first names, not ranks, so they could feel more comfortable discussing such an unpleasant topic.
"We're all a community here at Eskan," Wood said to the audience of Soldiers and civilians. "We may come from different commands, but we want to have and maintain a suicide-safer community. The reality is that 21.6 veterans a day kill themselves," he said, citing statistics provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. "A lot of these veterans are in my age group (50-years and older)."
Over the years, the Army conducted suicide awareness training and responded to incidents of suicides. In light of the troubling number of 250-300 Soldiers who kill themselves every year, the Army explored ways to become more preventative and discovered the LivingWorks ASIST program. Trainees learn and develop skills needed to become more proactive and preventative when it comes to intervening in a suicide attempt.
"This particular training (LivingWorks ASIST) equips the individual with the knowledge and skills needed to intervene on behalf of someone who attempts suicide and (possibly) prevent a tragedy from occurring," he said.
Wood, a Southern California native who previously served eight years in the Air Force as a law enforcement officer, later entered the ministry. In 2010, he became a chaplain in the Army Reserve and, in 2018, joined OPM-SANG as the command's first chaplain.
A LivingWorks ASIST trainer for the past two years, Wood realized that the Eskan community would be better served by having more than one person as suicide interventionist. That's where both Munro and Millington stepped in and volunteered to become LivingWorks ASIST trainers.
They were sent to Italy on temporary duty orders to complete a weeklong Training for Trainers course to prepare them to become provisional trainers. After they successfully complete three workshops within a year of T4T while working side-by-side with an experienced trainer, such as Wood, then they graduate to full registered trainer status.
"Coming home (from war) and seeing veterans and personal friends commit suicide fueled my passion for this (training)," said Munro, a combat veteran from Goose Creek, South Carolina, with more than 20 years of service in the Army and National Guard. "I want to do my part to alleviate suicide."
Millington, a 32-year veteran of the Army and Army Reserve, and a native of Willingboro, New Jersey, explained that the reported number of 21.6 veterans who commit suicide every day is based on the number of suicides that are recorded as statistics.
"There are many suicides that go unreported, such as someone who dies in a car crash who intentionally crashed that vehicle," she said. "One life lost to suicide is one life too many."
All three believe that making people aware of the importance of this program is key to them getting on board. To this point, Wood said Col. John DiGiambattista, OPM-SANG program manager and a proponent of the suicide intervention training, will be one of the trainees in a future class.
"He believes in what we're doing, and he wants to get involved," Wood said.
The next suicide intervention training sessions are scheduled for Aug. 20 and 21; and Oct. 9 and 10.
For more information about the course or if you are interested in becoming a trainer, visit www.livingworks.net/.