How do you connect with others, and why is that important? Research shows that social connection improves physical, emotional, and mental health. It can also reduce the likelihood someone will consider or attempt suicide.
“We need those genuine, physical face to face interactions,” said Lathan Newkirk, Suicide Prevention Manager for U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz. According to Newkirk, making and maintaining connections can be a challenge for Team 21 Service Members and civilian employees who are busy with work responsibilities, may be away from loved ones, or face cultural and language barriers living outside the U.S.
September is Suicide Prevention Month—a good time to commit to connect.
“Social connections and a sense of belonging can be protective factors,” explained Newkirk. “Loneliness and feeling like a burden can increase the risk for suicide for some individuals.”
According to the latest Unit Risk Inventory report, younger people, ages 17 to 25 are most at risk, so programs that help them make connections are important, said Newkirk.
Another group that can benefit from strong connections are Service Members who are newly arrived and have been stationed overseas for less than 12 months.
This month, make and strengthen connections with your 21st TSC battle buddies, family and community, keeping young adults and new arrivals top of mind.
Connect Through Art
“Arts and crafts are always a great way to connect, whether it’s household or with other people outside of your household,” said Jana Cahill, Baumholder Arts and Crafts Center Program Manager and certified to facilitate Resiliency through Art and to practice Art Therapy.
You don’t have to have a fine arts degree to benefit. “Focus on the process rather than the product,” said Cahill. “It’s a way to practice mindfulness, forget about all your stress and worry and be in the moment. And we are here to guide and help you along the way.”
Activities like painting your own ceramics as a group connects you with others, as well as your own inner artist. Connect at bit.ly/baumart or call +49 (0)611-143-531-2895.
Connect Through BOSS
BOSS (Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers) is a great way for single/unaccompanied soldiers, regardless of rank, to get involved in the community, out of their barracks room and connected to others around them, according to Kaiserslautern BOSS President, Staff Sgt. Sebastian Clayton.
“We continuously look for ways to gather our soldiers in a group,” said Clayton. “By providing them with an outlet to de-stress and relax the Soldiers are more willing to get involved and connected with one another. By doing so they begin to create a network of support amongst each other.”
According to Clayton, community volunteer opportunities, trips and events such as a mud run, promote a positive atmosphere and help Soldiers “bounce back“ from negative thoughts. All eligible soldiers are automatically enrolled in the program, and the Kaiserslautern military community currently has approximately 1,000 active members. To connect with BOSS visit bit.ly/Boss21 or call 49 (0)611-143-541-9058.
Connect Through Outdoor Recreation
Whether you enjoy a peaceful hike in the forest, or an adrenaline-pumping round of paintball, Outdoor Recreation’s myriad of offerings can help you connect with nature, family members and battle buddies.
“We have something for everyone,” said Jason Ille, Outdoor Recreation supervisor. He added that if they don’t have it, let them know. “That’s how you get good ideas.”
In addition to leisure travel and group outings, equipment rentals and special events, Outdoor Rec offers the Warrior Adventure Quest program to Service Members. The program builds camaraderie and is targeted to units that are post- and pre-deployment.
Ille is grateful for the number of activities Outdoor Rec is able to offer, while observing COVID restrictions and guidelines. “They give us the ability to be social, something we’ve been deprived of because of COVID.”
Connect with Outdoor Rec at bit.ly/OutRec21 or call +49 (0)631-3406-4117.
Connect at Work- Employment Assistance Program
Department of the Army civilians and Service Members share their work environment, but may face different challenges when it comes to making connections. James M. Honeycutt, Employee Assistance Program/ Prevention Coordinator can help individuals and entire teams identify and meet those challenges.
“This is not therapy,” Honeycutt makes clear. “However, if someone is having trouble organizing what’s going on their life, they can meet with us. We can make a plan, and there are providers in the community that we can refer people to, that do provide treatment.”
Honeycutt explained that the EAP helps individuals and teams develop solution-focused action plans to address workplace issues. Many issues, such as stress and bullying can be related to connectivity.
Weekly or bi-weekly meetings or events such as potlucks, where work issues are not discussed, can help build stronger connections.
“The focus then is not on tasks, the focus is on relationship building,” he said.
EAP can help the relationship building process through mediation and training that enhances communication and promotes team-building. This is vitally important in the U.S. Army mission-essential environment.
“When collaborating on a task, especially in stressful environments, I find I have a lot more patience with people if I know more about them,” said Honeycutt.
To connect with EAP for individual assistance or team training, email email@example.com
Connect Through Sports
“I love playing sports,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Carlos E. Chavarria Jr., 21st TSC G2 Geospatial Engineering. He has been playing intramural softball for 18 years. He and Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Wheaton, S-3 NCOIC, 21st STB, coached the 21st TSC and 21st STB Sentinel Soldiers softball team to a second place finish for the spring 2021 season.
Chavarria and Wheaton said intramural sports are a great way to build camaraderie and have fun with fellow Soldiers outside of the uniform.
“When you are part of a team it gives you a window of opportunity to relate in another way,” said Wheaton.
The two coaches are a perfect example of making connections through sports. They both hail from Chicago, went to the same high school, and graduated the same year. But they never would have known each other if it weren’t for sports. Now, they share a bond and a network of connections even though one is a White Sox fan and the other roots for the Cubs.
Chavarria encourages anyone to participate in intramural sports, even if they don’t think they are athletically inclined. He says one of their softball players this year “was horrible” at first, but got better over the season and developed confidence as well as connections.
“I’m a big proponent of intramural sports,” said Chavarria. “It builds unit cohesion.”
Find your sport and connect with a team at bit.ly/IMsport.
Connect with the Library
Finding a place to escape may not sound like the best way to connect, but Landstuhl Library Director Joshua Hampton says providing facilities for study, computer use or meetings helps people make connections. He has even given up his own office space so groups can get together.
“The great thing about libraries is that people associate it with privacy,” said Hampton. “It’s a very safe space. No questions asked. We treat everyone the same. No judgement.”
As a trusted resource, Hampton says libraries regularly and happily serve as a referral source, connecting individuals with everything from VAT information to current events.
“We’re kind of like Google in real life,” he said.
Libraries also sponsor large scale programming that has seen crowds of more than 500 pre-COVID. Smaller programs, such as story times and reading programs are ongoing.
Connect with Landstuhl or Kleber library at bit.ly/KtownLibraries
Connect with Comprehensive Soldier Fitness
Interested in maximizing your potential? Sky Clarke, 21st TSC Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Coordinator, looks forward to meeting you. She’s passionate about helping Team 21 with everything from enhancing resiliency to improving overall (holistic) health.
She wants to help Soldiers, families and civilians connect with each other and with programs that enhance quality of life.
“There are so many resources here, but we need to help people access them,” said Clarke. “Most provide complete confidentiality, and if one doesn’t fit, move on to the next. There’s a resource out there for you.”
She cited the WeCare Europe App (iOS and Android) as a good way to find the right resources.
The Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program helps Soldiers, family members, and Army civilians stay healthy while facing challenges common in Army life.
Connect with CSF at firstname.lastname@example.org
Connect with Teens
The Adolescent Support and Counseling Services (ASACS) program at Kaiserslautern High School helps teens connect with each other, family members and the community. Licensed clinician Shirril Brines provides individual, family and group counseling to address issues such as depression, anger management, anxiety, grief and substance abuse. She works with a team of mental health and social services professionals at the school, including Military and Family Life Counselors, a school nurse, a school psychologist, a social worker and guidance counselors. “These kids are surrounded by help if they want it,” said Bines. “We have an amazing team here.”
Bines regularly helps parents concerned about their children’s relocation to Germany, and their ability to make friends and connect. According to Bines, COVID restrictions has made connecting more difficult, but services such as weekly counseling meetings via Zoom are making a positive impact. Whether you are a student or parent, you can connect with ASACS by emailing email@example.com.
Connect with Religious Support
There are a few different elements of what makes a person: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, according to 21st TSC Chaplain, Col. Stanton Trotter. “If we actively cultivate each area then we thrive as a human,” he said.
Trotter defines spirituality as having a connection/awareness with a higher power—most would say God—and then sharing a connection with other children of God. “So having connection with others—family, friends, neighbors, co-workers—is an essential element to being spiritually fit,” said Trotter.
“Reaching out to other people and serving, helping, volunteering are the best ways to make connections and feel good about yourself. I encourage everyone not to focus on limitations or the bad that is front of them, but rather to focus on the help that they can offer to others. When we help others, we also gain from that too.”
The USAG-Rheinland-Pfalz Religious Support Office offers many programs and services that promote spiritual fitness. Connect at bit.ly/RPRSO.
Connect by Volunteering
Volunteer-power was unleashed at full force last month, as dozens as representing the community, and organizations including the American Red Cross and USO sprang into action to support Operation Allies Refuge. As volunteers served the community, they made new connections and strengthened existing ones.
According to USO Senior Area Operations Manager, Casey Pizzuto, when you volunteer for the USO, you become part of a family with a very important purpose. “USO’s mission is to strengthen America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation.”
USO programs that help people connect include Military Spouse Coffee Connections, where spouses share advice, learn about local events, and make new friends over coffee and pastries. The Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program helps Service Members maintain family connections by reading to their children from around the world.
USO Kaiserslautern works closely with the Army and Team 21 to engage younger soldiers. Single service member outings range from Apple picking excursions, concerts, resiliency events, holiday outings and dinners.
Participate in a program or connect with the USO to volunteer at www.volunteers.uso.org.
Additional volunteer opportunities:
American Red Cross- firstname.lastname@example.org
The Army Family Web Portal- https://www.armyfamilywebportal.com/
Commit to Connect
The resources highlighted here are just the tip of the iceberg. During Suicide Prevention Month, make a pledge to connect by reaching out, participating in community events, and inviting someone to join you.