CAMP HUMPHREY, South Korea - *The final installment of a three-part series featuring Capt. Anthony Priest, with 1st Signal Brigade, and how he faced multiple suicide situations on his road to becoming a behavior health officer.*
Captain Anthony Priest smiled from ear-to-ear as he finished talking about “What if You Didn’t,” the music video he created with Grammy and Dove songwriter nominee, Bob Regan. He started something powerful with ‘Light up the Night,’ at Fort Campbell, Tenn., (his last duty station) and after the Army moved him to Korea, he wanted to continue his work.
When Priest moved from Fort Campbell to Camp Humphreys, South Korea, he was keenly aware South Korea had the second-highest suicide rate in the world. However, he also knew Nashville country stars would not be waiting outside the gates to help him bring awareness to his cause in Korea.
Additionally, he still wanted to shift the narrative on how people view suicidal thoughts and suicidality. There was still the need to create a safe space for anyone who needed it.
Priest said Korea is a unique duty assignment as Soldiers, for the most part, are away from their families - some of them for the first time. Korea might be the perfect place to reach out to those who are struggling.
Priest set to work.
He would organize a “Light Up the Night” in Korea and this time instead of country-music artists, he would ask members of the community to participate in the event. He would find musicians and fine artists to share their stories of struggle and hope.
This year “Light up the Night” will be Sept. 7 in the Camp Humphreys Downtown Plaza. The event will be from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. and is open to all members of the Camp Humphreys community.
“Local artists will come out and showcase their creative side in a way that helps to paint a picture of hope,” said Priest. “They will be shedding a light on life and positivity. Beyond that we will have a couple of guest speakers, some of them will be Korean American.”
He said having Korean, in addition to American, representation is important because of the number of Koreans who work and live on the installation. Camp Humphreys, as well as other installations on the Korean peninsula, have Korean Augmentation to the United States Army soldiers, Korean nationals who work on the installation, as well as a large number of Korean dependents. With a high suicide rate in Korea, Priest said he wanted to prioritize including Korean-American speakers.
“I think it is really critical that we understand those statistics and we come together to enhance our relationship with Korea,” said Priest. “More importantly, coming together to talk about this topic and how we can support each other, this partnership we have with them, is incredibly important.”
Priest said “Light up the Night” is the perfect opportunity to get civilians, service members and government employees in one space to educate the community on suicidality and to replace culture’s negative perspective on suicide with messages of hope, support and belonging.
The Camp Humphreys’ Light Up the Night event will have guest speakers, resource tables and a crisis-response table. Additionally, this will count as annual suicide training, with a sign-in table for accountability.
“If the Army is going to mandate an annual suicide prevention training, which I am grateful that they do, then I’d rather it be done by people who have a skill set and a knowledge based on the topic, so that’s it not just a checkbox” said Priest “It’s not just a, ‘hey I did this training.’ This is a really incredible event. I felt inspired by it.”
At the end of the evening, a candlelight vigil will take place to reflect on those lost to suicide.
“My hope is that nobody leaves this event unchanged,” said Priest. “We all have an opportunity to create this counter-culture, but that change starts first within our own hearts and minds. A person feeling suicidal isn't theirs to fix, it's ours.
If you or someone you know needs help with suicidal thoughts visit https://988lifeline.org or dial 988. Lifeline Chat is available 24/7 across the U.S. and certain territories.
For those in Korea you can call 988 from any DSN line, or 080-855-5118.