FORT LEE, Va. -- Col. Clydea Prichard-Brown, 59th Ordnance Brigade commander, and the commanders of the 16th, 73rd, and 832nd Ordnance Battalions developed a robust suicide awareness and mitigation plan designed to minimize the suicide risk factors associated with COVID-19 restrictions in the advanced individual training (AIT) environment.
The COVID-19 virus presents unique challenges to the AIT population. Trainees are adjusting to military life and being away from home. During mandated periods of quarantine, feelings of isolation can be overwhelming.
Dr. Cheryl King, PhD, of the Institute for Human Adjustment, University of Michigan, identified suicide as the third-leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds in 2020. The average age of AIT students in the 59th OD Brigade is 18 to 24. Together, these facts highlight the importance of suicide awareness and mitigation strategies for the AIT population.
“We must maintain a high level of commitment to protect our most valuable resource - America’s sons and daughters,” said Col. Clydea Prichard-Brown.
“The personal health and well-being of our trainees, cadre, Army civilians and contractors is critical to maintaining a high level of readiness,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Ivy Guido of the 59th OD Brigade.
In response to the brigade’s initiative, the 16th OD Battalion command team, Lt. Col. Aaron Workman and Command Sgt. Maj. Tamara Drury, launched a multi-pronged mitigation strategy to target suicide risk factors and raise suicide awareness.
The 16th OD Battalion developed a behavioral health risk assessment tool (B-RAT) with help from the Kenner Behavioral Health Center, the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, the Army University Institution Research and Assessment Division, leading behavioral health experts and the Fort Lee Admin Law counsel.
“It’s crucial to establish an assessment tool to identify Soldiers who need help,” said Lt. Col. Workman.
The B-RAT collects information based on a series of questions to identify Soldiers with behavioral health risk factors. The collected data is submitted to the battalion commander who determines the Soldier’s level of risk based on criteria provided by Kenner Behavioral Health Specialists. The B-RAT provides leaders a vital tool to identify at-risk Soldiers and ensure they receive the professional help they need.
“All Soldiers are entitled to outstanding leadership, and all leaders must understand that every Soldier must be afforded the opportunity to seek behavioral health without fear of reprisal or stigma,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Drury. The 16th OD Battalion command team emphasizes the importance of seeking help at every new Soldier in-brief.
Alpha Company, 16th OD Battalion hosted a panel discussion on resiliency and the importance of Soldiers getting help when they need it. Staff Sgt. Dexter Hicks, former Army instructor, shared his personal story and credited behavioral health professionals with helping him start down a road to recovery from years of mental trauma.
Coping strategies and stress-relieving activities were other components of the overall suicide awareness and mitigation plan.
Capt. Sylvia Scott, Bravo Company’s commander, found a creative way to raise suicide awareness -- her Soldiers designed and signed a suicide promissory poster. The poster displays the National Suicide Hotline and “101 Reasons to Live” above the suicide promise pledge at the bottom. The Soldiers drew upon their personal experiences to come up with the “101 Reasons to Live.”
Brig. Gen. Michelle M.T. Letcher, Chief of Ordnance, and Command Sgt. Maj. Petra Casarez, Command Sgt. Maj. Of the Ordnance Corps, signed the promissory poster along with the brigade command team to show support.
On a lighter note, Echo Company, 16th OD Battalion capitalized on the COVID-19 constrained environment by motivating Soldiers to show off their video-gaming skills during a no holds barred Super Smash Brothers video game tournament. First Sgt. Shawn Huff got in on the action to help boost the Soldiers’ morale.
Alpha Company Soldiers visited the newly reopened Ten Strike bowling alley on Fort Lee, which boosted morale and provided a fun stress-relieving activity to help them unwind.
The companies came together for the 16th OD Battalion, Unit Ministry Team (UMT) ruck march that focused on “The Value of Life.” This activity reminded Soldiers of their incredible worth to their leaders, the organization, and the nation.
At the end of the march, Soldiers were given a "Value of Life" business card with life-saving behaviors and principles printed on the front and back. The cards are part of the UMT’s effort to help leaders and Soldiers talk more openly about suicide.
One side of the card reads in part, "Your life matters, you are here to proudly serve and make a difference in the world… Choose life today: Stay connected with your friends, family and Army team. Proactively and boldly seek help when you need it."
Raising suicide awareness and mitigating suicide risk factors for AIT students in a COVID-19 constrained environment will continue to be a challenge until the vaccine is widely distributed.
With command emphasis and flexible leadership, the 59th OD Brigade is poised to meet the challenge head on by continuing a robust suicide awareness and mitigation plan.