By Spc. Maurice Galloway, 17th Fires Bde. Public AffairsJune 16, 2010
COB BASRA, Iraq (June 16, 2010) - Soldiers with the 17th Fires Brigade, deployed to Basra, Iraq, and 21 others from various units throughout Iraq and Afghanistan met for a week-long Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training course at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
"Suicide doesn't care what color you are, how much money you make, or even where you live," said Devon Taylor, course instructor of LivingWorks Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. "It's everywhere, which is why we need ASIST-trained caregivers throughout our communities."
Four certified trainers administered the course: Taylor, David Pina, Joe Johnson, and Chris Piper of the Living Works A.S.I.S.T program, developed in Alberta, Canada.
The Army experienced its highest suicide rates in 2007 and 2008 according to the Army G-1 Suicide Prevention Office.
In January 2009, the Army reported more deaths due to suicide than from combat operations. These alarming numbers prompted a powerful statement, which flooded barracks halls on posters across the nation from Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth Preston: "One suicide is too many!"
The Canadian firm LivingWorks Education Inc. was contracted in 2009 to assist the Army in training Soldiers to intervene, significantly reducing the chance of the person at risk completing the suicide.
"The ASIST program is similar to the Army's ACE program. However, the ASIST program asks you to be more involved in the person at risk's recovery process," said Capt. Mark Rendon, chaplain for 1st Battalion, 377th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th FiB.
LivingWorks isn't the only resource that leaders are looking at for support.
"I'm asking the 'Backbone of our Army', our NCO Corps, and other green-tab leaders, to look each and every Soldier in the eye and convey the message that each one is valued by our Army, their Families and friends, and our nation," said Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, during a suicide prevention speech in January this year.
Also, the Army's ACE program had Soldiers ask the person at risk if they had thoughts of suicide, care for them by removing any means that could be used for self-injury, and escort the person at risk to a chaplain.
Rendon, a Stockton, Calif., native, said the ASIST model provides Soldiers who are not in care-giving-related fields a systematic structure that's proven to work and easy to learn.
During the first half of the course, each of the instructors helped the participants understand the concepts of ASIST by showing suicide intervention videos, using role-plays that allowed the participants to view the model at work, while fully engaging them in suicide-intervention scenarios as caregivers.
"This course is more than just a 'check the block' program. Suicide is real and it's happening in our armed forces and our Families," said Staff Sgt. Caroline Keller, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 17th Fires Bde., chaplain's assistant and native of Salem, Ore. "With ASIST, my team and I are now prepared to carry the ASIST program into our community and empower those people with skills to prevent suicide. We will intervene and save lives from suicide."
Now certified caregivers and training instructors, Keller and the other participants returned to their respective units, able to conduct classes for Soldiers and their families -- thus creating more caregivers throughout their communities.
"We must remind Soldiers that the Army remains committed to help, support and assist them to meet hardships head-on, no matter the struggle, stressor, or challenge," Chiarelli said.