By Candateshia Pafford, III Corps and Fort Hood Public AffairsSeptember 9, 2011
FORT HOOD, Texas, Sept. 9, 2011 -- PowerPoint slides can be very boring, especially in a dark auditorium. Now combine that with a difficult topic for discussion like suicide prevention. It's a recipe for an instant nap.
Instead, Fort Hood is waking up Soldiers and giving them the opportunity to join live actors on stage for a suicide prevention interactive play every Tuesday at Palmer Theater.
September is Suicide Prevention Month. Although suicide awareness is stressed all year long, September is set aside to conduct training and to test crisis response plans.
According to the Army, as of July, 161 suicides have been reported in 2011 -- 97 active duty and 64 Reserve Component Soldiers. Fort Hood has reported five suicide cases since Jan. 2011 -- three confirmed with two still under investigation.
"The impact that suicide is having across the Army right now," John Hearn, Interactive Role-Play facilitator said, "Soldiers need to know how big of a deal it really is."
Hearn, a former service member, interacts with his audience throughout the play using his own personal stories, and he asks for audience participation on how to approach different suicide prevention scenarios.
The interactive play highlights the common risk factors and warning signs of suicide, Sharon Sutton, Fort Hood's Suicide Prevention Program manager, said.
During the play, four professionally trained actors dramatize the warning signs and act out the risk factors of suicide from a Soldier's perspective.
Aaron Alexander, an actor who played "Spc. Alexander" throughout several skits, said, "Something I love doing -- acting -- is actually saving lives."
The play started off with each actor introducing themselves as their Soldier persona. Then Hearn gave a short introduction of Alexander's background. Alexander is a central character throughout the play.
Alexander, once a well-rounded, hard-working Soldier, runs across the stage because he is late for formation, again. He shows a sudden change in behavior, a lack of respect for himself and others, and a depression and emotional detachment.
Alexander's platoon leader questioned his recent change in behavior.
"What's going on?" the platoon leader asked. The specialist quickly gave a one-word response.
"Nothing," he said.
The actors freeze. Hearn then leads the audience in a question-and answer-session. He pulled a Soldier, Spc. Erik Melvin, 5th Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, out of the audience to portray Spc. Alexander's close friend who is concerned about his change in behavior.
Melvin dramatized the "Ask" portion of the "Ask, Care, and Escort," or ACE, training model.
With the help of the audience giving suggestions, Melvin role-played different ways to approach Alexander to get him to open up and confide to him. But as real life does not play out like fiction from books, Alexander tells Melvin nothing.
"See something, say something," Hearn said as he stepped back in for another question-and-answer session. "Now is the time to 'say something' to someone about Alexander's behavior," Hearn said.
The play continued with Alexander continuing to show warning signs and risk factors of suicidal behavior. His work performance continued to fall and his temper was spiraled out of control.
Next, Spc. James Kuritz, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, was brought on stage as Alexander's platoon leader. Kuritz then assisted in the dramatization of the 'Care' portion of ACE.
Kuritz tried to get Alexander to talk about what is sending him in a downward spiral. Unfortunately, with no response but "nothing," Kuritz contacts Alexander's ex-girlfriend, "Spc. Dominguez," portrayed by actress Karina Dominguez.
In a humorous rant, Dominguez quickly dismisses Kuritz's warnings about Alexander's behavior saying, "He is my ex boyfriend, not current boyfriend!"
The laughter stopped when Dominguez is informed that Alexander has killed himself, showing what happens when suicidal risk factors and warning signs are ignored.
Other skits were performed to demonstrate the "Escort" portion of ACE by Dominguez and Michelle Keffer, and "See something, say something" by actors Alexander and Joey Hood.
Dominguez said the play helps Soldiers because it has something different for them with the interactivity, which helps stimulate them.
"They get a chance to get involved and invested," she said.
Captain Aaron Skerkavich, 5-82 FA Regt., said he had his own preconceived notion about what the play would be like, but he felt they definitely blew that out of the water.
"It was awesome," he said.
The interactive role-play is performed each Tuesday at Fort Hood. The play is recommended for adults only, due to some graphic language throughout the performance.
For anyone needing immediate assistance, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-SUICIDE, or the Fort Hood Chaplain Crisis Line, 287-CHAP (2427).