NASHVILLE, Tenn. – From dancing to skits, role plays, podcasts and games, the last thing one would think is happening is a suicide prevention training event.
Carmella Navarro, Suicide Prevention Program Manager, 85th U.S. Army Reserve Support Command, has been one of the influential key members who gave breath to the U.S. Army Reserve’s Stand for Life program dating back to 2019.
“My mission was giving our Soldiers the best quality material to do a good quality job,” said Navarro. “To remain focused on the needs of someone who is at risk and who is suffering.”
Navarro built the SFL program through coordinated efforts with personnel from Army Reserve commands such as the 76th Operational Response Command, 86th Training Division, the 451st Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), and 4th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) to name a few. Navarro credits the collaboration of staffs and partner organizations for the success of SFL.
“We all collaborated to build,” said Navarro. “I love the team. I think they are very talented people and they all have gifts to offer to our Soldiers.”
SFL provides resources and networking capabilities, as well as intervention skills for people at-risk for suicide. Postvention, which is a newer addition of the training, discusses what a unit does after a suicide takes place. There is also a portion of the training that is designed for the care-takers that discusses wellness and selfcare. One of the ways the training is different from traditional army training is the level of interaction and various exercises versus training through slide presentation.
In 2016, Navarro met Ariesa Evans, who was assigned to one of the 85th USARSC’s subordinate units, during a two-day Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training class. Navarro was impressed with Evans’ ability to train and offered her an opportunity to become a part of her training team for suicide prevention. As Evans began working with Navarro, they discussed evolving the suicide prevention program and developed a more specific program to supplement the training for their command.
“We could do this for our own organization. We should start our own Stand for Life, because that’s what we’re standing for,” said Evans.
Navarro and Evans began building training support packages, program modules, and writing up the program from the ground up. Once approved, the training events began with classes from 60 participants to then 20 in a group, to 15 and now the course has been tailored to five people in a group.
“This (size) gives that group more of a one-on-one and allows the participants to use their intellectual minds and creativity to create a course that they can take back to their organization in what works for their unit, because every unit is in a different place,” said Evans.
Evans explained that while trainers use training packages to instruct the training, participants, who are known as suicide prevention liaisons, develop their training and give teach backs during the course in how they will instruct once they return to their units.
“When they take (the training) back to their units, they are able to build a training that they can have. Then they have a package that leaves with them and it’s not just them getting the training, they can then apply it and train the trainer,” said Evans.
Since the inception of SFL, Navarro’s staff has continually grown and evolved across organizations within the Army Reserve. Navarro continuously recruits and searches for new talent to build onto the program.
“Carmella has a remarkable ability to bring talent together,” said Tyler Montgomery, SPPM, 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support). “She has a unique ability to get the best and train people that work well together to create a team. She’s able to bring out the best in those trainers, and to train them up and bring mindsets together.”
While Navarro continually refines the team, she and her team also look at their training plans and keep the training fluid. Once an SFL training event is complete, Navarro and her team conduct after action reviews to exam how training was conducted, what worked and what can be improved. After the training participants return home, the staff conducts meetings to evaluate responses and then adjusts certain portions of training, as needed.
“We have evolved the program based on listening to the Soldiers and Army Civilians that attended the training,” said Navarro. “We ask them what they want, where is a need for improvement, what they really loved about the training and what they’d like to see more of.”
Stacie Austin is one of the newer program trainers, or facilitators, that Navarro discovered during an SFL event. Austin stated that she fell in love with the style of the SFL program, and that she found Navarro as a valuable resource to her in her personal family life.
“I fell in love with their approach on how they teach to react to suicides and just the openness of the program,” said Austin. “Carmella, as an individual, has helped me on an individual basis when I needed help for a family member or a Soldier at my unit. She was always available to reach out to. Her connection and the staff forms a connection like family.”
Building connections is a strong point continually addressed in the training and provides training through efforts that require a connection by the way of team-building exercises, group projects, networking and games.
“It’s really important that we understand that this type of training does not need to be one-sided with an individual standing in front of a class giving a power point presentation,” said Jedidiah Flynt, assigned to the 85th USARSC’s 3rd Regiment, 356th Logistic Support Battalion. “If we really want to make a difference, we have to build connectedness across organizations and make sure we have that trust built where if Soldiers have issues, they can come to not only their peers, but their leaders as well.”
Cody Griffin, assigned to the 85th USARSC’s 1st Regiment, 383rd Battalion, also has had personal experiences with suicidal ideations in his family, and works as a program facilitator to help others better understand how to combat it.
“I have a twin brother that’s had thoughts of suicide many times and I remember how awkward it was,” said Griffin. “This class taught me how important it was to connect with others. I can now express its importance and let (others) know it’s uncomfortable but how important suicide prevention is and to be aware of what’s going on.”
Since 2016, Navarro has grown the SFL program and evolved trainers. She did not stop even when COVID-19 hit in early 2020. At that point, Navarro and her team adjusted the program to a virtual environment to find how to provide effective training through an online platform while maintaining personal connections. In her sixth year, Navarro is now departing for a new opportunity, but leaves the Army Reserve with high hopes for the program and its future under the next evolution.
“It’s been amazing and I hope that it is something that continues to evolve. I love this generation of trainers. They’re young. They’re smart. They have fresher brains than I do, and they bring so much talent,” said Navarro. “But it’s meeting the right people, talking to a lot of people, working and collaborating and that’s what makes this work.”
Lt. Col. Jennifer Bantner, assigned to the 86th Training Division, has worked with Navarro since 2013 at Yellow Ribbon events, before Navarro was assigned to the 85th USARSC. Bantner shared that Navarro has grown the SFL program to not only benefit Soldiers but it now has evolved within the Army Reserve’s local communities and families.
“It’s been wonderful to see how the SFL program has grown beyond Soldiers and units and has expanded. (Carmella) embraces everyone from the Army, pulling in from various SPPMs, units and now its extending out to communities. People are taking what they’ve learned and use it within their families, within their civilian jobs, within their churches, and just bring it forward,” said Bantner. “The thing that makes (Carmella) one of the best leaders is that she cares and she’s genuine. She creates such a great environment and you see it in the classroom, but as a trainer, you see it in her everyday activities. She truly walks and practices what she preaches.”
During one of the last SFL training events that Navarro was involved with, Col. Stacy Cordell, deputy commander of the 85th USARSC, participated as an attendee through the three-day course, to gain a detailed understanding of how liaisons are prepared to combat suicides.
“The training was not what I expected,” said Cordell. “I was very impressed. It was different from standard Army training. There is a lot of engagement with Soldiers, attendees, and it helps students better understand their Soldiers beyond a normal classroom environment. I highly encourage commanders to look across their formations to encourage their suicide prevention leaders to attend this training. It provides an outstanding instruction on how to improve leadership, but overall, how to connect with Soldiers.”
While the team prepares to move forward without Navarro leading the program, the team remains motivated, inspired and has endless ambition to continue evolving the program.
“I love the stand for life training. I think there’s nothing like it because it’s more interactive, more involved, it’s not just pitch by slide. You’re getting involved and making a difference,” said Evans. “So whenever someone gets involved and makes a difference, guess what? You just changed the trajectory so we can’t just sit down. We have to stand for life.”