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NEWS | Feb. 6, 2019

Joint effort to battle suicide among Soldiers

By Michael Mascari 81st Readiness Division

The 81st Readiness Division is leading the charge in a multi-compo effort to defeat a common enemy: Suicide.

In conjunction with the 99th Readiness Division, the 81st RD hosted a valuable training series featuring multiple tools for Army leaders in November. The Suicide Prevention Programs division conducted training to include Senior Leader Risk Reduction Tool (SLRRT,) ACE-SI, and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST).

“Each component has different resources,” said Enrique McClymont, 81st RD Suicide Prevention Programs Manager. “By combining efforts, we can each take advantage of the others’ tools, we can improve the quality and level of our training, and therefore, it enhances readiness within our own components.”

McClymont said recent guidance eliminating required training often results in misunderstanding. There has been some confusion as to what is required, what is recommended and what Soldiers and leaders should actually consider taking, training-wise. 

Commanders are still required conduct suicide-awareness training annually and have some discretion on the tools they use. Different courses in the Army’s toolkit often complement each other, but those classes aren’t necessarily taught in conjunction with each other. That is changing.

The ASIST course outlines a model of asking an individual directly about suicidal ideations and to “keep them safe for now.” Combining these courses into the same week is not just efficient; SLRRT also helps leaders identify potential issues in Soldiers that may increase their risk of suicide. 

Master Sgt. Joan Keese, a Readiness NCO in the South Carolina Army National Guard, has completed other suicide prevention programs and believes this combined training is very valuable.

“In the field, Soldiers come back from deployment or bring in other issues from home that other Soldiers might miss. Being able to able identify these issues as leaders will make it more likely you can step and help the Soldier,” Keese said. 

This training is unique, because the 81st will use this model to duplicate this training opportunity in partnership with Fort Jackson and the South Carolina Army National Guard. Though all three components, Active, Reserve and National Guard, often work together in contingency operations, McClymont believes this is the first combined effort to train these courses under one roof at Fort Jackson. 

McClymont tapped into his own experience and contact networks. His South Carolina National Guard counterpart, Sgt. 1st Class Chris Allen served in McClymont’s previous unit. Ajaye Franklin, the Garrison Suicide Prevention Programs manager served in the same capacity in the 81st as McClymont’s predecessor. Franklin conducted joint training for Fort Jackson and the Reserve during his time at the 81st. Allen and Franklin agreed the joint training opportunity maximizes training dollars.

“The more people you have, the greater the training experience,” Allen said. “We are able to efficiently and effectively reach more people with the combined component and combined training opportunity.” 

Using their collective experiences and piggybacking on the success of November’s event, McClymont coupled other tools. In January, the Fort hosted a combination of Suicide-to-Hope and ASIST. The Suicide-to-Hope focuses on the after-care of someone who may be struggling with suicidal ideations.

The Army required Soldiers in the past to complete the ACE-SI annually, while thousands of Soldiers complete ASIST each year throughout the military. ASIST is a civilian-designed course created and run by Livingworks, a Canadian company that created the course in 1985. The model has slowly evolved, but closely resembles the original course taught to mostly civilian audiences.

Those who have used the Pathway for Assisting Life (P.A.L.), the method taught in ASIST, often attest to the success of the model. The two-day class provides videos, exercises and role playing segments to equip students with practical, realistic training. 

Keese said, “I have a great relationship with my leadership, and they support this training. I present this to other units’ leaders by asking them how would they feel if they had a suicide in their unit and how would it affect the mission and the morale. Let’s be proactive and stay in front of the situation because nobody wants this to happen in their unit.”