FORT KNOX, Ky. — Shirley Johnson considers suicide awareness and prevention his life’s work because for him, it’s personal.The Fort Knox Army Substance Abuse Program specialist understands the issues surrounding suicide and he’s been leading the charge at Fort Knox to reduce the stigma of admitting the need for help for the last six years.“The best part of my job is actually talking with people here at Fort Knox,” said Johnson. “I still get emails and have Soldiers stop by and see me. I’m not a doctor, I’m not a social worker or counselor — I’m a prevention specialist — but I guess they see me as the face of suicide prevention.”Averaging about one class a week, Johnson said his perspective on stress and difficulties has changed over the years.“I don’t see stress, anxiety, depression as a medical condition. I’m a Soldier for life, an old retiree. I’m a farmer, and I’m an athlete,” said Johnson. “When I have stress and adversity in my life, I now see it as a threat that I have to start scanning the horizon for solutions, and then address the issue.“I also no longer see it as a weakness.”Johnson said he has a personal story that he weaves into his trainings to help others relate better to the need for help.Johnson explained that he had returned home from a deployment as a Soldier, excited to greet his wife and children after releasing his troops from the return formation. Excitement was in the air as they all stood in formation and heard the one word they had anticipated: “Dismissed!”That word represented joyous chaos for them all, said Johnson. In the middle of that chaos stood Johnson, at first looking for his family, then calling out to them.Soon, he found himself standing in an empty auditorium, and having to call a cab to get home. After having to break into his own home, he stared at an empty house.“It was a low time in my life, probably the lowest time where, for whatever reason, my mind chose to focus on suicide ideation,” said Johnson.As his heart sunk and reality set in, suddenly a tap on his shoulder brought him back from that dark place.“It was the connections I had made in my life prior to that event that got me through that hard time,” said Johnson. “It wasn’t the wisdom of a chaplain, the knowledge of a doctor, the skill of a gatekeeper, it was the connection I had with an old fishing buddy of mine.”That fishing buddy – a neighbor of his whom he called the Bread Man because he drove a bread truck — moved in with him for a week to keep him company and be a friend.“That day, he was a superhero. All he was missing was a cape,” said Johnson. “He was there to walk with me during that time; a connection that I had invested time and effort into prior to this event,” said Johnson.“It goes along with what we refer to as personal readiness; the actions that we do prior to an event happening,” explained Johnson. “The more you invest time and effort before that event, the more you’ll be prepared and ready for it.”In line with the “Connect to Protect” theme for National Suicide Prevention Month, Johnson said the Army focuses on five dimensions of strength that we all should invest time and effort into to prepare ourselves for trauma: spiritual; physical; social; emotional; and, family.“We want our relationships, our connections, whether they be our family, social or friends, within ourselves, physical and emotional, or spiritual, to be at 100% all the time,” said Johnson. “They’ll never be at 100%. We’ll always have to work at it.”Johnson takes those five dimensions of strength and shows those who participate in his training sessions how they fit into his personal experience. He approaches them in three layers.“First, we have to have this connection with ourselves. We have to know ourselves,” said Johnson. “As the old saying goes: ‘Know yourself and seek self-improvement.’”The second layer is the connection we have with others: family and social. He emphasizes quality or quantity time.“One hour of quality time is worth more than 24 hours of quantity time,” said Johnson.The final layer is the connection we have with our faith.“To me, it’s my relationship that I have with my Savior,” said Johnson. “I will fail myself; my family, my friends will fail me, but my relationship with him will not fail me. Once I learned the biblical principle that you can cast your cares on Him because He cares for you, life got so much easier for me.”Johnson said the need for people to be superheroes is quite possibly greater now than it ever has.“People think they’ve got to have all the great magical words, and the right timing to help others,” said Johnson. “A lot of times, all you have to do is just be present.“Be there to build connections; be a superhero.”