Story and photo by Emily Athens
GUIDON staff

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. - (Oct. 21, 2010) Soldiers of the 515th Sapper Company, 5th Engineer Battalion underwent a two-day Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, Oct. 13-14, at the Installation Chaplain's Office, as they continue to prepare to deploy to Afghanistan with the coming of the new year.

"It's important for not only deploying units, but stateside units as well to help leaders and also Soldiers be able to identify those that are at risk for being suicidal," said Staff Sgt. Demarius Lyles, squad leader, who attended the training.

The two-day workshop, which is offered once a month, prepared the 22 participating Soldiers and leaders with the skills needed to detect and deflect suicidal tendencies.

"The ASIST training is just another tool in the toolbox of the Soldiers and leaders that will strengthen the war-fighting capabilities of the unit. It can be a force multiplier," said Chap. (Maj.) Chris Edwards, 4th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade chaplain, and one of the six instructors during last week's training. "The ASIST training is an excellent program that helps Soldiers and leaders become better prepared to deal with the problem of suicide in the Army."

According to Edwards, the training is especially critical during the cycle of deployments where stress levels may increase significantly.

The workshop's curriculum includes the teaching of methods of prevention, postvention and intervention; an explanation of suicide first aid and how to connect with suicidal individuals; a description of attitudes and suicidal signs; direction for resources and various ways to get help; and a discussion of real-life scenarios. For some, the real-life scenarios only served to reiterate what they had already witnessed before.

"One of my friends deployed, lost a lot of people including his squad leader, and redeployed with a lot of issues. ... Military Police busted into his room when he slit his throat. Luckily, he lived," said Cpl. Isaac Vandentoom, medic.

For Vandentoom, the experience of seeing the dreadful possibilities of suicide only enhanced the importance of undergoing the ASIST training, especially with a pending deployment.

"As leaders, we go through a lot of stressful situations when we're deployed, so it's good for us to deal with situations now and practice now," he said. "I'm excited to be able to help my Soldiers who are ever going to be in a problem like this."

As suicide rates continue to rise, military communities continue to make efforts to save a life and put an end to the unfortunate pattern.

"In the last fiscal year, our team trained 408 personnel in suicide intervention skills. The key to our program here at Fort Leonard Wood is the dedication of our trainers coupled with outstanding chain of command support," said Chaplain (Maj.) Gregory Thogmartin, chaplain for the U. S. Army Engineer School and ethics instructor, who also served as an instructor during the ASIST training. "All of our trainers have 'real jobs' and are busy doing their missions, but they are able to break away for these two-day events because their commanders see the value of ASIST and support them in this effort."

"Suicide is preventable," Edwards added.

(Editor's note: Emily Athens is a photojournalist with the Fort Leonard Wood newspaper, the GUIDON.)