VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. –
Virginia National Guard Soldiers from around the state attended a Suicide Intervention Officer Course April 18-20, 2023, at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The course, offered by the Virginia National Guard Resilience, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention Program, provides training and resources for unit SIOs to help Soldiers having suicidal ideations.
Eighteen Soldiers, both officers and enlisted, participated in the training, which included Ask Care Escort- Suicide Intervention and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. ACE provides Soldiers with the awareness, knowledge, and skills necessary to intervene with those at risk for suicide. A.S.I.S.T. is the Army-approved intervention training.
The training was conducted by Kristal Winstead, Virginia Army National Guard risk reduction coordinator, Jerry Newmy, Virginia Army National Guard suicide prevention coordinator, 1st Sgt. Alton Sturdifen, state resiliency coordinator, and Edwin Lloyd, D.C. Army National Guard risk reduction coordinator.
Each member of the class was there voluntarily and they each had their own reason for participating in the training.
Two years ago, one of Sgt. Brian Haley’s fellow Soldiers didn’t make it to formation. The unit was at Fort A.P. Hill when they learned he had taken his own life.
Now Haley, who is assigned to the Leesburg-based Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, wants to be ready to help Soldiers who might be facing the same thoughts.
“I want to be ready to intervene if someone has a crisis on their hand even if it wasn’t just suicide,” he explained. “Maybe it’s drinking or some other issue. Sometimes these things are interconnected.”
“I grew up experiencing various instances dealing with suicide and I never knew how to address it,” explained Spc. Allison Miller, assigned to the Sandston-based Detachment 2, Bravo Company, 248th Aviation Support Battalion. “Stepping into leadership positions, I wanted to be able to develop the skill sets to be able to address the situation in a positive and helpful way.”
The training will prove to be valuable long after drill weekend and annual training ends. Miller, who is a full-time student at Liberty University, knows the training can be valuable when Soldiers return to the civilian world.
“Everyone is susceptible to dark clouds at times so I think this training can be applicable outside of the National Guard,” she said.
Haley completed a 48-mile ruck march in March. When he was finished, a friend from high school reached out social media. The person explained that a fellow friend from high school is having issues. Haley is planning to visit him soon and offer assistance based on the training he received in the course.
The training wasn’t just classroom and slide deck-focused. There was also considerable time spent role playing and sharing experiences. Miller found each type of training valuable.
“The first day was very productive and the second day the most beneficial part was sitting in small groups and sharing our own experiences with suicide and how relatable it is to everyone,” she said. “And I think the interactions where we act out scenarios has been very beneficial.”
“The training is wonderful,” Haley agreed. “There’s not a correct answer sometimes. Hearing different conversations and background from different people is powerful.”
While all units are required to have an SIO, it’s ok to have more, according to Sturdifen. There is no rank requirement for the training. Both officers and enlisted can serve as an SIO. In fact, participants wear civilian clothes so they don’t see rank during the training.
“Any formation can have someone with suicidal thoughts and having that battle buddy who is trained, no matter what their rank, is important,” Sturdifen said.
The Virginia National Guard R3SP Program provides resources and education to all Soldiers to combat high risk behaviors. The end state is a healthy organization that is resilient, knowledgeable regarding high-risk behaviors, educated on stress reduction measures and aware of available Soldier resources.
“Our overall goal is to travel the commonwealth and spread the word to Solders and leadership and educate them in regard to suicide,” said Luz Koptchak, Virginia Army National Guard R3SP coordinator. “We want them to be able to talk about it, know what resources are out there and not to be afraid and break the sigma.
“You’re not going to get in trouble for reaching out for help,” she explained. “We have a full team dedicated to being able to help out Soldiers.”
“We want people to know suicide is something that’s happening and suicidal thoughts are happening everyday,” said Sturdifen. “It’s ok to talk about it so you can get help and feel that connection within our formation.”
This was the second SIO course held this year. A third one is scheduled to be conducted in June. For more information or to find out how to become an SIO email the R3SP program at ng.va.vaarng.list.R3SP@army.mil