September is Suicide Prevention Month at Fort Riley. This year, personnel involved in hosting events and training are focusing on recognizing and helping with stressors that lead to suicide. They are also encouraging people to spread the word about understanding stressors and preventing suicide with the theme #BeThere.
When even one Soldier is lost to suicide, Fort Riley leaders try to understand the reason and learn how to help prevent another person from taking their own life.
“For each one of these deaths, (Maj.) Gen. (Joseph M.) Martin has met with the chain of command from the brigade leadership all the way down to the squad leader,” said David Easterling, Suicide Prevention Program manager. “I’ve had the opportunity to sit in the room and listen as they talk about and try to understand the deaths and the loss of these Soldiers. The emotions written plainly on the faces. The general’s not there to ‘ah-ha, I got you.’ He’s not there to say, ‘how did you screw up.’ He’s there to understand and learn lessons from the life that was given and the life that was lost. And as we sat there, it was plain to see that the leadership struggled emotionally with the loss of their Soldiers, that they feel that loss, that a brigade commander who did not know this young Soldier who is now gone still struggles with the fact that ‘that’s a loss in my formation,’ and there’s always an emotional response.”
Out of the desire to equip leaders and help them spot some of the warning signs of stressed Soldiers, a new type of awareness training was built.
Sept. 6 and 7, Brandon French, prevention coordinator for the Army Substance Abuse Program, will teach two leaders seminars to company commanders, platoon leaders and more from the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. The seminars will focus on understanding the effects of alcohol and the effects of the legal process on an individual and how they have the potential to lead to suicide, Easterling said. The seminars are a pilot training program developed by French for leadership at Fort Riley.
“If I’m a leader looking at a Soldier going through divorce, I could say, ‘OK, he has this going on, but I don’t see any other issues,’ and this may give them a little more of a ‘Well, they may not have issues yet, but this could lead to them turning to alcohol and then it could lead to this,’ so that’s where I went with the class itself,” French said. “Alcohol as a stressor itself and alcohol has an impact on stress that we already know — how it can reduce our resilience because of the certain physiologically things that go on.
“I’m just a very small piece … Then I have Maj. (Hana) Rollins from the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate. She is going to talk after me about some of the life changing events, what she sees when Soldiers come into her office who are facing any sort of life changing action.”
Other on-post agencies have teamed up to increase awareness and the potential for suicide prevention.
The USO Fort Riley and Army Community Service are teaming up Sept. 7 and 21 to offer a free lunch and spin the wheel activity at the USO. The spin the wheel activity, as well as personnel present, will offer tips and information to Soldiers and families alike to help deal with stressors in their lives.
From Sept. 24 to 29, ASAP will hold a training for trainers session to get 24 people qualified in applying and teaching the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. This training, commonly referred to as ASIST, prepares people to intervene when a suicide risk is present. For more information, call Easterling at 785-239-1012.
“Every day is suicide prevention,” Easterling said. “Every day we choose life. Every day is a day to start new and fresh and move forward, but in all the hectic readiness and everything we are doing, we need a moment in time where we can focus our thoughts and energies and say ‘hey, there are people who are struggling, there are people who are suffering’ … we need to be willing to help our brothers and sisters not only in the battlefield, but in life.”
For anyone needing assistance, whether to talk or have someone be there for them, several resources are available.
The chaplains of Fort Riley have a hotline answered 24/7 at 785-239- HELP (4357).The calls are answered by a chaplain who can talk on the phone or meet in person.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800- 273-TALK (8255). It also has an online chat option at suicidepreventionlifeline. org. Callers may request to speak with someone who specializes in assisting veterans.
All the hospitals in and surrounding Fort Riley, including the Kansas cities of Junction City and Manhattan, have trained and caring professionals ready to aid anyone who needs them.
“We have great hospitals here whether it’s in Junction City, Manhattan or here at Fort Riley,” Easterling said. “We have great people there who really care.”
Other resources available at Fort Riley include:
- Military Family Life Consultants who offer free, confidential counseling.
Army Substance Abuse Program
Financial Counselors at Army Community Service and within the units
Suicide Prevention Program
“Suicide prevention is important,” Easterling said. “It’s important that the community practices more than just going to a class once a year, but that we try to help one another out by doing those kind niceties our moms tried to beat into us as children — opening doors for people, smiling, being kind, helping people change tires on the side of the road, getting involved with the stressors of life when they’re only a stress helps improve the quality of life for the individual and, in return, helps keep them safe from suicide.”
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