Observance month highlights effective suicide prevention training
Staff Sgt. James Barron, retention NCO and victim advocate for 309th Military Intelligence Battalion, speaks to Bravo Company, 309th MI Bn. Soldiers on Sept. 9 at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, about being a survivor, feeling the impact of a life-long friend’s suicide and the importance of seeking help during a crisis. (Photo Credit: (U.S. Army photo by Karen Sampson)) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- Suicide prevention is a Department of Defense (DoD) priority throughout the year, but during September the Department brings focus to the complex issue of suicide and emphasizes training, resources and support systems available.

“‘Support is within reach; we are in this together,’ is one of the slogans this year for Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month,” said Joanne Prince, Suicide Prevention Program manager at the Soldier & Family Readiness Center.

This slogan is about the importance of connections, she explained. Connection builds hope, and hope is what saves lives.

Training such as Applied Suicide Intervention Training (ASIST) teaches one how to approach someone in crisis and to start conversations about their current state of mind and whether they are contemplating suicide.

“This is the hardest conversation you will ever have,” Prince advised.

ASIST is a workshop designed for members of all caregiving groups. The emphasis is on teaching suicide first-aid to help a person at risk stay safe and seek further help as needed.

Equipping leadership with ASIST and Resources Exist, Asking Can Help (REACH) programs helps identify when something may not be right when communicating with a person in crisis, said Chaplain (Maj.) Charles G. “Chuck” Gilbertson, deputy command chaplain at U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command.

The REACH program cultivates a new mindset around “help-seeking” in the military. This mindset change applies to lifting the stigmas surrounding service members’ requests for medical or mental health assistance in mental health crises, suicidal ideations, or possible suicide attempts.

“Chaplains tend to be the first line of defense in cases of suicide ideation,” Gilbertson said. “ASIST and REACH give a roadmap on how to help someone in crisis.”

Staff Sgt. James Barron, retention NCO and victim advocate for 309th Military Intelligence Battalion, said he is a survivor and feels the impact of a life-long friend’s recent suicide.

“It’s been a year and a month, and I am still upset,” he said about his friend’s death.

Barron reconnected here with his best friend from his hometown in late summer 2021. Barron knew him and his family since he was twelve years old. His friend, a commissioned officer, was sent here to attend the Military Intelligence Captains’ Career Course.

“We went to [lunch], and we went shopping,” he recollected. “We had a great time reconnecting.”

That same evening his friend died by suicide.

Barron said when they saw each other for the last time he didn’t feel as if his friend was sending any signals, messages or saying ‘goodbye.’

“My understanding is he had a bad thought and acted in haste,” he assumed. “It stinks. It is still hard.”

When he found out about his friend passing, he went to Bravo Company’s executive officer and requested emergency leave.

Grateful his leadership understood his needs,

Barron was able to travel to his hometown to attend the memorial and be with his friend’s family. He also attended the unit memorial here with his friend’s parents.

“People in the military intelligence field assume asking for help is a detriment to their career; maybe they will lose their secret clearance or be seen as weak,” he explained. “This is not the case at all.”

Barron advocates asking for help during a crisis and says if he hadn’t asked his command for help when his friend passed away, he would not be as healthy as he is now.

“I make it well known that I sought therapy,” he said. “Therapy is important to me and a helpful support system to work some hard thoughts out.”

Barron says building his support system is vital.

“Finding a support system is not a ‘one size fits al’” problem,” said Master Sgt. Katina James, deputy commandant at U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence Noncommissioned Officer Academy. “Some people are comfortable going to a behavioral health clinic and some are comfortable with talking to someone anonymously.”

When the opportunity arose, James volunteered for ASIST.

“I like the idea of enabling Soldiers to find resources for themselves and helping them to understand the resources,” she added.

“ASIST taught me how to apply empathy in a way I hadn’t in the past.”

James explained that stressors someone else might be going through might be a “10” on the pain scale for them, whereas it may not be the same for her. It allows you to see the problem through their eyes.

“The one thing I like about ASIST training is that it focuses on the person at risk agreeing to come up with a solution to keep themselves safe,” she explained noting that when someone invests in their own care, it proves to be more successful.

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Fort Huachuca is home to the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence, the U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM)/9th Army Signal Command and more than 48 supported tenants representing a diverse, multiservice population. Our unique environment encompasses 946 square miles of restricted airspace and 2,500 square miles of protected electronic ranges, key components to the national defense mission.

Located in Cochise County, in southeast Arizona, about 15 miles north of the border with Mexico, Fort Huachuca is an Army installation with a rich frontier history. Established in 1877, the Fort was declared a national landmark in 1976.

We are the Army’s Home. Learn more at https://home.army.mil/huachuca/