Suicide prevention can happen anywhere

By Sgt. 1st Class Emily Anderson | 80th Training Command | April 24, 2019

FORT KNOX, Ky. —

Standing in the middle of the woods, Spc. Ashley Wesley, 1st Battalion, 108th Regiment, 1st Engineer Brigade, 102nd Training Division, successfully prevented a Soldier from committing suicide during the Combined Best Warrior Competition in Fort Knox, Kentucky, April 7-12.

However, this was not a real suicide attempt, but a scenario constructed by the Army Reserve Aviation Command suicide prevention leader Jeffery McGrady and chaplains to show how important not just physical fortitude is to being a best warrior, but knowing how to handle mentally stressful situations, such as suicides and Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention incidents.

This year’s competition consisted of Army Reserve Soldiers from the 84th Training Command, 377th Theater Sustainment Command, 88th Readiness Division, 81st Readiness Division, 99th Readiness Division, Army Reserve Aviation Command, AR Careers Division, and the 80th Training Command (The Army School System).

“Being the Best Warrior is not only about how great you can shoot or how many push-ups you can complete in two minutes,” Wesley said. “As a junior enlisted Soldier in the competition, I strive to become a great NCO, a great leader. With being a great leader, you must know how to handle these situations given you ever encounter them.”

While other basic warrior skills such as first aid, weapons qualifications, land navigation, and a physical fitness test were a few of the many events that the competitors had to endure to earn the title of best warrior, incorporating the non-traditional suicide prevention lanes into the competition ensured the most knowledgeable Soldier, who best embodies the Army Values, was selected to represent the 80th TC at the U.S. Army Reserve competition in June. 

“We ran three suicide prevention lanes. We had the competitor enter the lane into an area with a Soldier doing security. However, after a few minutes, it becomes obvious the Soldier was suicidal or homicidal,” said McGrady.

Competitors were expected to demonstrate how to stop the potential suicide while maintaining security and preventing others from escalating the situation again. 

“The competitor talked to an at-risk Soldier for about five minutes to try and deescalate the situation,” McGrady said. “Then we would introduce a curious bystander, who would try to stir things up and interrupt to see what’s happening and so forth, to see if the competitor maintained tactical security plus keeping anyone back who might exacerbate the situation.” 

“These techniques stick in the Soldiers’ minds when they are physically practicing them versus when they are just getting a slide deck and talking about it,” he added. “I think we need to take an element of suicide prevention training out of garrison and out of the classroom, and put it in the tactical field environment.”

Competitors were evaluated on 10 performance measures under two tasks. The first task required the use of A.C.E. – ask, care, escort. The second task focused on tactical security and if the competitor safeguarded oneself and the at-risk Soldier. 

“I was in the Army for 30 years and as a chaplain for 23 of those years, so I’ve dealt with a lot of suicidal Soldiers,” McGrady said. “If I have someone come through the door today and say they’re suicidal, my heart’s going to be beating fast. I’ll have to calm myself down first, and remind myself that I’ve been here before and can do this.” 

“To have those reactions doesn’t mean you’re not equipped to handle it,” McGrady said. “We may feel inadequate doing this prevention training in the field environment. At the end of the day, caring for that person and using good common sense, you can’t really say anything wrong…except go ahead and do it.” 

Knowing how to interact with another Soldier who expressed suicidal and homicidal thoughts allowed the competitors to put into practice what they have learned from the yearly suicide prevention training courses required by the Army.

“I feel as though these lanes were extremely important to include in the Best Warrior Competition because no one was expecting it, which made the competitors reactions even more raw and realistic,” said Wesley, who earned the title of Best Warrior for the 80th TC in the enlisted category. 

Ultimately, the lanes’ goal ensured the competitors understand how to handle a suicide outside a classroom environment and understand how the situation can be re-escalated, especially in a combat environment. 

“By doing these lanes this way, we definitely saved lives in the future ground battles that we will have because those Soldiers will remember what they went through this week, and it’ll come back to them,” McGrady said. “I hope they won’t have to, but if they do, they can use those skills to save lives in the process.”