By John B. SnyderOctober 12, 2012
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. -- Nearly 500 Watervliet Arsenal civilian employees stopped all manufacturing operations October 10th as the Arsenal participated in a Suicide Prevention Stand Down.
This was part of the Army-wide stand down to educate leaders and their subordinates on the issues that may lead to suicides, as well as what actions they can take to prevent a suicide. Despite significant efforts in recent years, the U.S. military is confronting an epidemic of suicides.
The Army ordered the stand down following a DOD report claiming that suicides doubled from June to July. Twenty-six active-duty Soldiers were listed as potential suicides in July, which were the most suicides ever recorded in a month since the Army began tracking these figures.
Although the Arsenal consists mainly of Department of the Army Civilians, this does not exempt them from thoughts or acts of suicide. And when one drills down into the demographics of the workforce, they would find that more than 40 percent are Veterans and some are still serving in the National Guard and Reserves. Therefore, the Arsenal cannot take the attitude that it is immune from the epidemic that is rolling though the active-duty force. And, it didn't.
Arsenal Commander Col. Mark F. Migaleddi kicked off the training by saying "We must take dramatic measures to protect our workforce and we can start that process by not just hearing the issues that our fellow workers may tell us, we must listen to them and then to take action."
With an understanding that stress involving money, relationships, and substance abuse may reach a point that some may believe there are no other options, Kyle Buono, the Arsenal's Fitness Program Supervisor, offered some preemptive options.
"Our Morale, Welfare, and Recreation program offers a variety of programs, from a fitness center to renting out recreational items, that are available to every Arsenal employee," Buono said. "And if you don't know how to play a certain sport or how to start a fitness program, I am always available to give you one-on-one training."
Staff Sgt. Mike Broderick, who is the New York State Guard's Joint Substance Abuse Coordinator, highlighted today's contemporary use of stylish drugs such as bath salts and synthetic marijuana.
He said that these drugs are often purchased at local gas stations and convenience markets as "for novelty use" or "not for human consumption," which means that they are for the most part unregulated. Because these potential drugs are not being well regulated, many people buy them to get a quick high.
"You may walk into a gas station one week and pick up a package that is 5mg and the next week the same package may be 200mg," Broderick said. "And so, these over-the-counter products that are easily attainable may diminish the decision-making ability of the abuser that can lead to suicide."
Josh Roy, the Arsenal's Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Trainer or ASIST, highlighted a fact that many Arsenal employees were not aware of.
"On the Arsenal, there are 26 volunteers who have undergone training to assist the workforce to identify signs that may lead to suicide and to provide help those who may believe their options in life are few," Roy said.
To assist Roy, as well as the Arsenal workforce, Mark Marshall, who is a certified counselor under the ValueOptions program, informed the workforce that he is available two days a week to help with work/life balance, relationships, and emotional resilience.
Then it was the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center's turn.
Dr. Joseph Hunter, who is the Albany VA Medical Center's Suicide Prevention Coordinator, provided the bulk of the training to the workforce.
"Veterans are twice as likely to die from suicide as the U.S. civilian population," Hunter said.
Keeping in mind that more than 40 percent of the Arsenal workforce are Veterans, Hunter's comment seemed to hit home with the crowd.
Besides Hunter walking the workforce through the identification of suicidal traits, and the actions to take when one believes their fellow co-worker or family member may be suicidal, he said something that may inspire the audience to step up and to take action.
"In my studies, I have found that those who have survived a serious suicide attempt said they wished that someone had simply shown an interest in them," Hunter said.
This statement ties back to Migaleddi's opening statement that we must become better listeners.
The Arsenal not only did its part to support the Army's suicide prevention efforts, it also created an environment that it is okay to seek help and once one does, there will be an Arsenal family of workers who will be there to help.
The Watervliet Arsenal (pronounced water-vleet") is an Army-owned-and-operated manufacturing facility located in Watervliet, New York. The Arsenal is the oldest, continuously active arsenal in the United States, having begun operations during the War of 1812.
Today's Arsenal is relied upon by U.S. and foreign militaries to produce the most advanced, high tech, high powered weaponry for cannon, howitzer, and mortar systems. This National Historic Registered Landmark has an annual economic benefit to the local community in excess of $100 million.