Kerri Brantley is a first lieutenant in the 35th Combat Aviation Brigade in Kuwait. The brigade, based in Missouri, held a suicide stand-down day recently as part of Army Suicide Prevention Month.
CAMP BUEHRING, KUWAIT — The 35th Combat Aviation Brigade conducted a suicide stand-down day here Sept. 20 to bring awareness and focus on promoting good health, teammate involvement, risk reduction and resilience training.
The suicide rate in the Army is astounding and continues to climb, and 35th CAB Headquarters took this day to pause and take a serious look at the issue. Suicide is the toughest enemy the Army is currently facing.
“Suicide stand-down is important; it brought awareness to a problem that the Army as a whole has,” said Maj. Kevin Hillman, brigade attorney. The figures are staggering. In 2012 to date, 120 active-duty soldiers are confirmed to have taken their lives while another 67 deaths are under investigation. The Missouri Army National Guard has lost four soldiers to this epidemic.
“It is up to all of us to make sure our battle buddies are doing okay and to ask them the tough questions, if necessary,” said Hillman.
“The stand down is very important. It was the best suicide training that I have been to in my military service," said Staff Sgt. Robin Martinez, tactical communications non-commissioned officer. "It is important because it educates soldiers to not be afraid to ask their battle buddy if they need help. It also educates us as to why suicide prevention is important, not only to those directly affected, but also those indirectly affected. It also educates us on how to ask.”
The day started off with a memorial 5K walk/run in remembrance of the four soldiers from the MOARNG we have lost to suicide this year. Along the route markers were placed an empty pair of combat boots, which represented a fallen soldier.
“My officemates and I had the idea for the run; we wanted the empty boots to symbolize a Missouri Guard soldier that was not there to help or train with us that day,” Hillman said.
It was a humbling time to reflect on the severity of the issue at hand.
“I stopped and paused, mentally, for each soldier as I passed the markers. I said a prayer hoping for strength for their families and friends left behind. Although each soldier was represented by a pair of boots, I felt as if there was an actual soldier standing in those boots. It was a very vivid and heartfelt experience for me,” Martinez said.
Staff Sgt. Chavis Hall, a flight mission coordinator, also took part in the run.
“I prayed for all the fallen, as a tribute to their lives, as I ran for them and many more like them,” Hall said.
Throughout the day a variety of training was conducted, which included videos, briefs, practical application of prevention and in-depth small team discussions. One lesson soldiers were given was the ACE class, which stands for ask, care, and escort; it teaches skills on how to intervene, what questions to ask to get soldiers the help they need and it encourages soldiers to intervene by stepping in with alternative solutions.
“The training emphasizes signs to look for and ways to cope with and battle stress and possible suicidal thoughts,” Hall said.
The day concluded with a family-style feast and a small group activity, lead by military resiliency trainers. The discussion was about "hunting the good stuff," which is vocalizing the good things that had happened to them that day.
“I learned a lot about the people around me and strengthened bonds with fellow soldiers,” Hall said.
Suicide is not the answer to life’s problems. Everyone goes through struggles and personal battles, in and out of the combat environment. The important message is ensuring that all soldiers know how important they are within the organization, to each other and to their families.
“It’s important to let younger soldiers and first-time deployers know that there are ways of being heard and getting help, without the stigma associated,” Hall said.
The stand-down day is complete, but there are several resources available to inform families and soldiers on keeping risk-free. Some resources include Army Strong Bonds, a chaplain corps-led program, which gives relationship education and builds skills to foster healthy families; Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness, which facilitates building resiliency, teaches coping life skills and helps people face life’s challenges; and Army Substance Abuse Program, which tackles the dependencies on alcohol or other drugs, to name a few.
For crisis intervention, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The 35th CAB will continue to focus efforts on soldier and family well being, resilience, stigma reduction and positive results achieved by getting involved and reaching out for help.
To keep up with the 35th Combat Aviation Brigade and to view a special shout-out to the Missouri Tigers, visit: http://www.dvidshub.net/unit/35CAB#.UGNRURyWU68.