Suicide awareness and prevention training is a year-round effort at all levels of the Army.
Individual organizations, units and leaders raise awareness by teaching troopers how to look for signs, provide help for possible victims and provide intervention techniques.
As they work to raise understanding of the signs and symptoms of suicide, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade leaders want their troopers to know they care and are in the fight with them.
Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Yeargan, Jr., 82nd CAB, has seen the pain of suicidal thoughts in a comrade’s eyes and said that being there with a listening ear is sometimes the best thing to help a trooper in distress.
“It is very important for everyone from the most senior to the most junior Soldier, to be engaged because sometimes it is just an ear that someone might need,” Yeargan said. “I have had people come to me and my listening helped them to realize someone cared.”
For some in the brigade, the loss of life due to suicide hits closer to home than others might realize.
Capt. Loren Sink, chaplain for the 2nd Aviation Assault Battalion, 82nd CAB is no stranger to the devastation suicide can cause and knows firsthand how suicide can destroy lives and Families.
“My father was a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves and a very successful defense contractor for more than 30 years before he took his own life,” Sink said. “No one knew that my father suffered from clinical depression for most of his adult life and it was devastating when we lost him.”
An ordained minister since 1987 and a graduate of the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training Course at Living Works in Canada, Sink joined the Army in 2008, at the age of 47, after feeling God’s call to serve as a chaplain.
“I am from a large military community in Tidewater, Virginia., which is right outside of Chesapeake,” Sink said. “After 9/11, my wife and I would see so many come home broken and desperate for healing and the sense of calling got stronger and stronger. I knew this is where I was supposed to be.”
Sink’s time in the military and calling to serve has led him to the 82nd CAB where he and other brigade leaders incorporate many of the resources provided by the Army, such as the suicide prevention and awareness model Ask, Care, Escort.
ACE encourages Soldiers to directly question their battle buddies who might be showing signs of suicidal behavior by asking them if they are thinking of committing suicide, caring for them, and escorting them to professional help.
“I think that the ACE program is a great start, but it goes beyond that,” Sink said. “You have to enact a safe plan, going step by step to help remove the barriers that would cause someone to take their life.”
Sink describes the barriers and indicators leaders need to look for — a weapon in reach that can be used immediately, car keys that might be used to help the person leave and even the idea that rank or position will be used against someone. Indicators can be a change in appearance, increased or excessive alcohol use, giving away prized possessions or a health issue.
“The indicators can be very obvious or very subtle,” Sink said. “But I find that people don’t necessarily want to die, they are simply looking for a way to fix the one thing in their lives that is causing the most pain.”
With more than 19 years on active duty, Staff Sgt. Corey Arnold, platoon sergeant, 122nd Aviation Support Battalion, remembers his first experience with suicide intervention during his time as a platoon sergeant for an advanced individual training school where Soldiers go immediately following basic training.
“I was actually one of the first people to respond to a call from a Soldier who had locked himself into a hotel room while on a weekend pass,” Arnold said. “After a few hours of conversation with the young Soldier, we took the Soldier to get help and that Soldier still calls me today thanking me for helping save their life.”
Arnold works closely with Soldiers and their Families and said his first priority is to get to know the Soldiers in his unit.
“As I introduce new troopers to the unit and the way we do things, I try to let them know that I understand there is life outside the Army,” Arnold said. “I draw from my own experiences and watch for those signs that a trooper might be having a problem, on a daily basis.”
Arnold said he knows that it is important to be approachable because junior troopers make up a large portion of his unit. They perform tasks and jobs that are essential to the overall brigade mission and it is important for them to understand their leaders care about them.
Pfc. Mason Collins, armament specialist, 122nd ASB, has been a part of the Atlas and Pegasus Family for over a year and shares his own pain where suicide is concerned.
“My cousin committed suicide while I was going through AIT,” Collins said. “We are only nine days apart in age and I wish I would have known. Maybe it could have been different if he were able to talk to someone.”
Collins, 21, has only been in the Army for 23 months. He uses his own methods to relieve the stress of everyday life.
“I know life is not always easy, but if I had any advice to my own peers it would be to get out more, take a walk or go see a movie, or just do something that makes you happy,” Collins said. “For me, I love to workout. I love it when I can just take a run or go spend a few hours in the gym, it clears my head and helps put things back into perspective.”
Collins said that he is always open to listening to his peers and friends when they confide in him. “Sometimes just talking out the problems is a start.”
Capt. Britton Price, chaplain for 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, has spent a lot of time with troopers during his tenure in the Army. He said that most of the time, Soldiers at risk really don’t want to take their own lives. They are just looking for someone to care about them and their problems.
“It is a permanent fix to a temporary situation,” Price said. “When I have someone come to me and tell me they are thinking about suicide and are having those types of thoughts, the first thing I do is ask them what is going on in their lives.”
Price goes on to say that if you can help people understand that what they are going through now is temporary, then you can show them there is hope for the future.
“I cannot divorce myself from my faith,” Price said. “I don’t believe there is anything you can do or say that is not redeemable. Life is precious and it doesn’t just hurt the one committing suicide, it hurts those around them.”
The American warrior is not perfect, but he or she is taught to never quit or accept defeat. Should the warrior need help in that matter he or she need only look to the left or right to their brothers and sisters at arms who are also taught to never leave a fallen comrade.
“We want our troopers to know we are all human and we all feel the stress of life from time to time,” Yeargan said. “We are willing to go the extra mile to help each other; one lost trooper is one too many.”
For more information about the Army Suicide Prevention and Awareness Program, contact your local chaplain’s office or call the National Suicide Hotline at 800-784-2433.