September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month and Soldiers from the 1st Theater Sustainment Command took the fight to prevent suicides to the next level by creating a suicide prevention council.
Exemplifying the campaign theme of “connect to protect - support is within reach,” the unit kicked off the month with its first suicide prevention council meeting on Sept. 1.
The SPC is a group of 1st TSC Soldiers who will provide guidance concerning efforts to prevent occurrences of suicidal situations (ideation, gesture, attempt, suicide) of Soldiers, family members, and department of the Army civilians assigned to 1st TSC.
Almost the entire group has been touched by suicide in some way. As SPC members introduced themselves, they shared their reasons for volunteering to serve on the council. Those ranged from having a family member, friend, or battle buddy who died by suicide to talking to a friend or colleague who was feeling that they wanted to end their life.
It was Master Sgt. Seth Nuckols, G-2 noncommissioned officer in charge, 1st TSC, who initiated the creation of the SPC here. Nuckols is the unit’s suicide prevention coordinator and is also Applied Suicide Intervention Skills trained. He hopes to have more Soldiers here go through the ASIST program where attendees learn identification and intervention skills for preventing suicides.
The 1st TSC already conducts annual suicide prevention training for all Soldiers using the Assist, Care, Escort or ACE training model. The goal of the training is to increase awareness of suicide risk factors and warning signs, resources available, and to encourage intervention with at-risk members.
One of the SPC’s first acts was to create a short stressor survey. The printed surveys will be located next to purple ammo boxes where they can be placed once completed. They will be located in the barracks and at the main entrance of Fowler Hall. The stressor survey will include several questions with the last question asking if you want to be contacted. They are also completely anonymous.
Nuckols noticed a need to have people trained in ASIST when he served as a first sergeant at the battalion level. He looked at the numbers after completing his training.
“Within six months there were four suicides, five or six suicides stopped in the act, and around 18 Soldiers reached out to leadership to get the help they needed,” he shared.
Nuckols hopes to create a “robust, mini task force,” in 1st TSC to combat suicide. The group must meet quarterly but will meet more as needed. He added that everyone in the unit, but especially leaders, can be critical in this fight to end suicide by being caring and engaged.
Engaged leadership means being an advocate for your team. Suicide is preventable and advocating connectedness is a protective factor.
Nuckols encouraged all leaders to talk to Soldiers. “You might be that one who breaks the cycle.” He further encouraged everyone to talk to each other, and especially to talk to those who’ve changed – if they’re not as upbeat or appear isolated.
In addition to Nuckols, Chaplain (Capt.) Jeremy Davis, Special Troops Battalion, 1st TSC, is available to talk to any Soldier, family member, or DoD civilian who needs to speak to the unit’s only 100 percent confidential counselor.
To explain the importance of every individual in the fight against suicide, Davis shared a story.
“Hundreds of starfish that were washed up by the tide lie motionless on a beach when a father and son duo stumbled upon the dire situation. The young boy methodically picked up starfish one by one and ran to the surf, tossing the suffering fish into the ocean. His father told him that there were too many to save, and to give up the battle. Yet the boy continued,” explained Davis.
“If I can save three, two, or even one starfish, I’m going to do it,” the boy demanded.
Similar stories can be recounted about people who’ve lost their support systems, feel lonely and defeated or need a comforting friend or leader to show them that they care or guide them to resources and recovery.
Davis said this is how he feels about helping people overcome loneliness and stopping suicide in our ranks. “If I can save one I will.” He is glad that he will have help now from members of the council.
“After you prevent the suicide there is a whole new part of it,” Davis said. “That’s where loneliness comes into play. You can stop somebody from killing himself, but what led him there?”
“To be able to combat loneliness is to be connected to something greater,” Davis said. “For me that means something very specific.
“I connect to my God through Jesus Christ. I attended a Lutheran college and seminary and now I’m a Lutheran chaplain. There are times in my life that I’ve been lonely, but I know that I’m there with my heavenly father,” Davis shared.
That connection to something greater could be family. Now what if that connection doesn’t pick up the phone? What if a family member disagrees with them on social media? What if they can’t go on vacation, take leave, or visit mom or dad? Then the connection to something greater has more space and time in between.
“As with much of Army training, Soldiers must challenge a problem set that needs to be solved,” Davis described. He said that tackling loneliness is not that much different than tackling other challenges in the military.
“How do you tackle land navigation in a forest? How do you get from point A to point B? How do you get food? We are taught all of this in the Army. We can teach the skill of combating loneliness,” the chaplain said.
Davis said, “You are not a failure if you feel lonely. There is a point in everybody’s life when they feel lonely. It’s nobody’s fault. It just happens sometimes.”
Davis said that the Army gets at that with master resiliency training. “Resiliency, in part, can help people deal with loneliness,” he believes. “We can connect resiliency to combat loneliness and teach that suicide is not the answer.”
Seeking help from a counselor at the behavioral health clinic or talking to a council member or a chaplain will not negatively affect a Soldier’s career. Nuckols wants Soldiers to know that they are not going to lose their security clearance or face discipline for seeking mental health treatment.
“I am an example,” he said. “A Soldier simply has to inform the investigator doing his clearance or renewal that he is receiving mental health treatment. However, he must show that he is following the prescribed treatment plan.”
The suicide prevention coordinator added that, “Suicide is preventable.” Most people who have thought about suicide can overcome it with proactive self-care, coping skills, support, and treatment.
“Our best ability is our availability. If we’re going to take this seriously we need to be available to those who need to talk,” Nuckols concluded.
The 1st TSC also has a part time military and family life counselor available to any Soldier, family member, or DoD civilian seeking completely anonymous counseling where no records are kept. Lee Ann Strobel can be reached at (270) 855-1082. Anonymous counseling is available for anything from deployment and reintegration challenges to marriage counseling.
Nuckols emphasized his passion about stopping suicide by leading from the front with an open invitation to speak with him. Anyone from the 1st TSC who needs to talk is encouraged to call him personally, regardless of the time, at (706) 755-0795. Any Soldier, family member or civilian employee can also call the 24-hour veterans and military crisis line (800) 273-8255. Chaplain Davis is also available at (502) 626-8710.