National Guard Committed to Suicide Prevention Year-round

By Air Force Master Sgt. Erich B. Smith, National Guard BureauSeptember 29, 2023

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen H. Hicks recognizes the Guam National Guard's suicide prevention efforts at the Department of Defense's annual Suicide Prevention Awareness Recognition Ceremony in the Pentagon Hall of Heroes, Sept. 6, 2023. (Department of Defense photo by Chad J. McNeeley)
Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen H. Hicks recognizes the Guam National Guard's suicide prevention efforts at the Department of Defense's annual Suicide Prevention Awareness Recognition Ceremony in the Pentagon Hall of Heroes, Sept. 6, 2023. (Department of Defense photo by Chad J. McNeeley) (Photo Credit: Chad J. McNeeley) VIEW ORIGINAL

ARLINGTON, Va. – The National Guard’s commitment to fighting suicide remains steadfast, according to Guard officials, and goes beyond September, which the Department of Defense recognizes as National Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month.

Army Lt. Col. Crystal Huff, chief of Warrior Resilience and Fitness for the National Guard Bureau personnel division, said that committing a month to generate awareness about suicide prevention underscores the profound connection between people and mission success.

“People [are the Guard’s] No. 1 asset,” she said. “When you show people they matter, and they feel valued, that leads to a healthier force. So, there’s a direct link between taking care of people and increasing readiness.”

But that mindset, she added, shouldn’t be confined to a month.

“The great thing about September is that we’re able to talk about it, amplify it and magnify the importance of it,” said Huff. “But we must make time to connect throughout the year.”

The Guam National Guard set a compelling example of strengthening bonds by weaving the Defense Suicide Prevention Office theme “Connect to Protect” into a tapestry of impactful campaigns, outreach events, resources and educational initiatives.

One such event, “Chalk the Walk,” invited Guam Guard families to inscribe uplifting messages in chalk, fostering a supportive atmosphere. During the holiday season, their “Combat the Holiday Blues” campaign raised awareness through strategic promotional materials at various events.

More recently, coordinators and senior leaders helped inspire nearly 500 Guam Guard members to submit messages on “strength cards” that were used during a prayer breakfast.

“Our programs and initiatives stress that support comes from all levels and that we must all work together to protect ourselves and each other while combating the stigma around seeking help for mental health and suicide,” said Guam Guard suicide prevention coordinators.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks recognized the Guam Guard’s suicide-prevention efforts at a Pentagon ceremony.

“Our honorees’ work on suicide prevention has been more than conceptual,” Hicks said at the Sept. 6 event. “They’ve launched campaigns to get the word out on life-changing information. They’ve organized outreach events to increase awareness. They’ve helped match people to the community support systems that best suit their needs. And they’ve nurtured connectedness at every level — from individuals to the squadron, command and battalion levels — to help save lives.”

The Guam Guard is not alone in its fight against suicide. In addition to hosting year-round events, Guard units nationwide are implementing training to make lethal means less accessible and less likely to cause death — a critical step to save lives in a mental health crisis event, according to Defense Department officials.

“So, because some of the other states have done that [training] and shown success, we’ve elevated that program now to the national level, and we’re going to try to roll it out to others,” Huff said.

She said making connections remains paramount in fighting suicide, starting the first day Soldiers and Airmen begin their military journeys.

“We have to build that connection from the beginning — from the time a service member joins the ranks to the moment they leave,” she said.

In a recent public service announcement, Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony Whitehead, SEA to the chief of the National Guard Bureau, challenged Guard members to always look out for each other.

“Would you know if the Soldier or Airman standing next to you needs help?” he asked. “I strongly encourage you to reach out to a battle buddy or wingman and let them know they matter. Seek help when you need it because a healthy force is a mission-ready force.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact Military and Veterans Crisis Lines. Dial 988, then press 1. For non-crisis help, visit http://militaryonesource.mil or call 1-800-342-9647.

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