Re: “JBLM committee working to prevent soldier suicides” (TNT, 6-22).
I retired from the Navy as the command chaplain at Submarine Group 9/NSSC Bangor in 2007. Shortly thereafter I was asked to help train Army personnel at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (then Fort Lewis), as a volunteer, in Applied Suicide Interventionist Skills Training (ASIST) alongside Gary Ouellette. I did this for about two years.
My observations were that while ASIST is a highly effective program, the best in the world, Army units would pull soldiers from the training for multitudes of reasons. Gary and I, along with a temporary assistant, were constantly frustrated when a roster of 24 would have seven or eight show up.
Secondly, unless JBLM suicide prevention officer Vicky Duffy has trained people working with/for her, the “unit” is way undermanned. The concept of a suicide prevention committee is good, but it is the soldier’s battle buddy, spouse, roommate, friend, etc., who has eyes and ears on a soldier suffering pain, frustration, anger or depression, and needs to know how to help, and thus is trained. Often a well-meaning member of the chain of command talks with the soldier but doesn’t recognize the signs because of a lack of training and a focus on the mission.
A lot of money is spent equipping soldiers with Kevlar, night vision goggles, weaponry, functional uniforms, etc. A few more dollars spent on training people in ASIST to save those same lives will be money well spent. Intervention, along with prevention, is the key.