Do you value your life? That question may be asked often during Suicide Awareness Month in September. “Value Your Life” event coordinators prompted roughly 250 21st Theater Sustainment Command Soldiers to think about their answers by carrying and then unloading life’s “burdens” September 21, 2022 at Rhine Ordnance Barracks, Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Service Members worked in teams to carry sandbags, symbolic of life stressors, through a 3.6 mile course that included stations staffed by support agencies including 21st TSC’s Unit Ministry Team, Ready and Resilient program, Behavioral Health, Military Family Life Counselors, the U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz Army Substance Abuse Program and Army Community Services.
Throughout the course Soldiers learned about available resources and removed weight, symbolic of stress being lessened, with the help of others. Earlier this year, the Army announced it is implementing a science-based, public health approach to suicide prevention, with new, comprehensive and integrated policies.
“This event is an integrated mind-body approach to Suicide Prevention Month,” said event coordinator Sky Clarke, 21st TSC Comprehensive Fitness Coordinator. “The goal of the event is to acknowledge the real weight, represented by the sandbags, felt by the mind and body when stressors are added to life.
“As participants learn about the support agencies available, the weight is lessened. Making this a team event is unique and reinforces the importance of connection and supporting each other through hard times.”
Clarke said the team concept and the opportunity for Soldiers to meet the people who work at the different agencies is key to strengthening connections and increasing the likelihood of people reaching out for help when they need it.
A major source of stress for Soldiers is finances, according to accredited Financial Counselor, and Financial Readiness Specialist Gary Strong, USAG Rheinland-Pfalz, ACS. During Value Your Life, Strong loaded Soldiers down with sandbags representing financial stressors such as housing and transportation.
“We would like Soldiers to understand that almost every person has financial stress,” said Strong. “Service Members even more so due to the nature of their mission requirements, PCS moves, temporary duties, and deployments. These financial stresses tend to exacerbate other stress. I refer to these as foundational stressors. They may not be causal to suicidal ideations, but they can make other stresses feel so overwhelming that they may lead to disastrous results.”
Strong added that ACS Financial Readiness help is free and can help Soldiers relieve the causes of financial stressors. “This will allow them to concentrate on the aspects of their life that are most important,” said Strong. “Their relationships and interactions with others, their ability to gain valuable life experiences, and have a productive and memorable life.”
USAG-Rheinland-Pfalz ASAP’s Suicide Prevention Office presented Soldiers with scenarios based on suicide risk and personal relationships, adding weight in the form of sandbags on the Soldier teams’ litters. According to Suicide Prevention Manager Lathan Newkirk, the sandbags represented the mental burdens caused by the scenarios. At a later station Soldiers were able to remove the “weight” by seeking help from the garrison’s helping agencies.
“The main thing I want them to understand is that help is available and there is absolutely no need for them to suffer in silence,” said Newkirk. “The garrison’s agencies such as ours are there to support them. We are all in the fight together. Our jobs exist to support them as warfighters and we all have a vested interest in meeting their needs. They deserve our support because of what they do for our country each and every day.”
Pfc. Quentin Tennant, an ammunitions specialist with, 8th Ordnance Company, said he appreciated the opportunity to participate in Value Your Life with his co-workers and friends.
“This was a very good team-building exercise,” said Tennant. “We learned about a lot of the help we can get if we ever find ourselves, or our friends or buddies in these [stressful] conditions.” Tennant believes events like Value Your Life have a positive impact. “Suicide prevention, to me, means coming in to work the next day and still having my battle buddy there.”
One of Tennant’s battle buddies, fellow ammunitions specialist Pfc. Carmen Avila, 8th Ordnance Company, said the event encouraged Soldiers to reach out for help. “They let people know that if you are ever going through anything, any type of stress, or anything is on your shoulders you can relieve it by talking to people,” said Avila. “It’s not a bad thing to go to somebody for help if you need it. Don’t be afraid.”
According to Clarke, the Value Your Life event was a true community effort. “I am so gratified by the amount of agency support that came together for this event,” said Clarke. “All the support agencies, plus Stars & Stripes providing giveaways and USO providing food. I’ve been inspired by how much everyone has wanted to help put this event on for our Soldiers to let them know that if they are going through hard times, there is someone to turn to. From battle buddies, leaders, family or support agencies—we are all here for each other.”
We Care, Europe app at Google Play and Apple App store
Financial Readiness Team at Army Community Services
DSN: 541-9015 CIV: 0611-143-541-9015
Email: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org;
Military Crisis Line
If you have a U.S. based phone, you can call: 988 and Press 1
Personnel serving overseas may contact the helpline via chat by visiting the website 988lifeline.org, clicking the chat link located at the top of the page, and requesting that a responder contact them by phone at no cost to the requestor.
Army Suicide Prevention Program at https://www.armyresilience.army.mil/suicide-prevention/pages/about.html