DETROIT ARSENAL, Mich. – The Tank-automotive and Armaments Command chaplain has a relatively new tool to combat the growing problem of suicide across the Army community as a whole.
The Strong Life Program, according to Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Scott Koeman, command chaplain for TACOM, addresses the issue of suicide differently than most other programs.
“I have seen a significant uptick in suicide ideations and suicides. Across the whole mental and spiritual health community, we have seen all of that; there's no denying the data statistics that are out there,” Koeman explained from his perspective and dealing with suicidal ideations and suicides as an Army chaplain for more than 27 years.
“Personally, I have definitely had more phone calls and follow up phone calls – and counseling related to suicide ideation and suicide. It has been a very difficult year, a very unusual year. The reason for that is, primarily, we're socially connected. We depend on relational connections and we're also creatures of habit. We would like to go out and do things, we would like to go out and enjoy a variety of activities, a majority of which have been significantly curtailed. So, it's not surprising.”
Koeman recalled that, a couple of years ago, Chaplain (Maj.) Eric Park, then a chaplain serving the Fort Benning community, was asked by his brigade commander to address the growing number of attempted and successful suicides within the unit.
Park, Koeman added, had a background in psychology with a clinical degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.
“He combined all that he had understood and put together a program to address not just suicide, and not just the religious aspect of life, but more of a holistic perspective of life,” Koeman said.
“He started to implement his program and teach it across the brigade,” Koeman said, adding that, after initial success within the brigade, the course was taught across Fort Benning before gaining the attention of the Chaplain Corps and then Training and Doctrine Command.
The first time Park conducted his newly developed The Strong Life Program Army Edition outside of Fort Benning was in December of 2018 when he brought the curriculum to Detroit Arsenal.
“The Strong Life Program takes a much more all-inclusive and self-diagnostic approach to the issue, not necessarily just suicide, but of unhealthy living, and mitigating crisis” Koeman said, noting that the class took less than half an hour to conduct.
“The program is based on the heavily researched, evidence-and-clinically-based biopsychosocial-spiritual model for human wellness, health and clinical care.”
“It boils down to this,” he added, “The Strong Life Program model and training components allows you to look at each sphere of your life, every aspect of your life. You go through a self-assessment questionnaire and answer it as you do your own self-reflection and evaluation into your life. You recognize, and realize, where you have been spending your time and your energy and where you may have been neglecting or overlooking certain aspects of your life. Social, physical, relational, spiritual, economic – every area.”
“Then,” Koeman said, “You can see where you need to put more focus, more attention. As stated by Park, and his program co-developer, Chaplain Christopher Davis, ‘The Strong Life Program helps people identify present stressors, helps people identify healthy opportunities and solutions equipping people with skills, tools and competencies to prevent a potential future crisis. This is how we help people: we proactively tackle distress and crisis by helping people address such potential risk factors before they even become a possible danger, threat or crisis situation. This is how we get left of the bang.’”
Koeman explained that The Strong Life Program’s self-assessment brings insight and awareness to vulnerabilities and present stressors affecting people’s lives – areas that were more prone to produce struggle. Life struggles produce stress, and one of the fruits of stress, Koeman said, is depression.
“Depression, of course, leads to negative thoughts,” the chaplain said, noting the negative spiral effect that further leads to low views of self and self-doubt that can be become extreme.
“The Strong Life Program helps people understand where they need to spend time, reassess and make positive adjustments and changes to achieve overall wellness, health, and attain deeper inner strength and, if need be, to also seek out help.”
Although the program has been implemented more in the past year, it’s not yet thoroughly trained across the Army, Koeman said, noting that, having been trained in the program, he recently conducted Army Strong Life at Watervliet Arsenal.
The program is open to anyone within the Army community – Soldier, civilian or contractor.
“It doesn't matter who is in the audience. What does matter is that it is chaplain led and chaplain directed,” Koeman stated, noting that Park developed the program within specific guidelines and limitations to protect its integrity and effectiveness. As a result, the program material is shared only with chaplains and can only be taught and conducted by chaplains.
Army chaplains, Koeman added, are on board to conduct The Strong Life Program anywhere and anytime. To request a class on The Strong Life Program for your team, contact Chaplain Koeman at firstname.lastname@example.org.