The Ask – Care – Escort Portfolio: Curriculum Updates and Implementation

By Susannah Williamson, Richard Gonzales, Jay Nolet, Dr. Michelle Kirk, Cpt. John Eric Novosel-Lingat and Susannah KnustAugust 22, 2023

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III, retired U.S. Army four-star general, said, “Every death by suicide is a tragedy that impacts our people, our military, units and our readiness. That’s why we remain committed to a comprehensive and integrated approach to suicide prevention.” In other words, one suicide is one too many. As the proponent for suicide prevention, the Directorate of Prevention, Resilience, and Readiness(DPRR) is the advocate for all Ask, Care, Escort training modules, including suicide prevention (now designated ACE Base +1), and Ask, Care, Escort – Suicide Intervention (ACE-SI). In addition to updated curriculum for ACE for Soldiers and ACE-SI, the DPRR has expanded its portfolio to include in the training Soldiers’ Circle of Support and Department of the Army (DA) Civilian audiences. These trainings provide the same knowledge, skills and language, with relevant and relatable examples for the audience. Overall, the intent is to facilitate greater dialogue among Soldiers, Circle of Support members and DA Civilians and to bring greater awareness of suicide prevention through interactive exercises.

Through an iterative curriculum development and evaluative process completed by the Defense Center of Public Health–Aberdeen and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), ACE Base +1, the revised suicide prevention training for Soldiers, includes four ½-hour modules. The annual requirement now includes the Base module and allows unit leaders to select one of the three half-hour “+1” modules to target specific needs or skills. The “+1” modules—Fighting Stigma, Active Listening and Practicing ACE—are essentially a menu of supplemental trainings to provide greater depth and breadth of suicide prevention topics.

·      The Base module introduces the Army values as a foundation for ACE while educating individuals on protective factors, risk factors and warning signs. The instructor explains each of the steps of ACE and how to use them, emphasizing the importance of directly asking the question about suicidal intent.

·      Fighting Stigma addresses the impact of public and self-stigma on an individual’s willingness to seek help and provides skills to fight against stigma in its various forms.

·      Active Listening teaches participants how to listen effectively in order to demonstrate care and support for the at-risk individual, which can lead into an ACE-specific conversation.

·      Practicing ACE synthesizes key concepts of applying ACE in a real-world scenario where participants practice with a partner.

ACE-SI was updated in 2023 to include the ACE Base +1 modules as well as a new section on trainer preparation. This section clarifies the responsibilities to intervene, support and train. Specifically, ACE-SIs should intervene when someone demonstrates noticeable risk factors or warning signs, support the command team and Soldiers with unit reintegration strategies after a behavioral-health-related absence and teach the ACE-SI and the ACE Base +1 curricula at a standard of excellence so that the material is passed along to others correctly, maintaining intent and integrity. For ACE-SI, there are still four tiers but with additional role clarification.

·      Tier 1 is an eight-hour training, which enables a Soldier in a position of trust to conduct suicide prevention training within the unit each year, to intervene in a crisis and to support the unit if a suicide-related incident occurs.

·      Tier 2 is a two-day training for suicide prevention professionals (NCOs E6 and above, officers and Civilians), which allows them to lead the Tier 1 workshop, to conduct quality assurance (QA) and to report requirements to the installation suicide prevention program manager (SPPM).

·      Tier 3 is a three-day training for installation-level professionals, including the SPPM, ready and resilient performance experts and individuals nominated by the component (COMPO) or major command (MACOM). These trainers are authorized to lead tiers 1 and 2 workshops, to conduct QA and to provide training reports to SPPMs.

·      Tier 4 is a one-day training for COMPO/MACOM employees who have program-level responsibility for training implementation and coordination. These trainers are certified to instruct the three-tiered levels.

By putting together a bench of trainers, the DPRR aims to connect with and support instructors.

The DPRR will officially implement the updated ACE Base +1 and ACE-SI curricula in September 2023, with additional simple and complex evaluations to prepare for the next revisions to the ACE portfolio. Further, the directorate has requested that the Research Transition Office at the WRAIR complete a fourth +1 module, Lethal Means, in the coming months, to roll out separately. These updated and comprehensive curricula demonstrate the directorate’s commitment to suicide prevention and intervention.

DPRR has created the ACE-SI Information Sheet in preparation for this curriculum change. This sheet covers an introduction of what the new training program is, useful conversation tools, who can conduct the training and why it’s important.