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Ask, Care, Escort: Soldiers attend intervention course

Gary Westling, ACE-SI facilitator, helps Soldiers through a group activity during an ACE-SI training course March 12 at Wings Chapel. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Gary Westling, ACE-SI facilitator, helps Soldiers through a group activity during an ACE-SI training course March 12 at Wings Chapel. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Published: March 21, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (March 21, 2014) -- Although the amount of suicides in the Army decreased from 2012 to 2013, according to the Department of Defense, the sergeant major of the Army has said that the Army’s mission to eliminate suicide isn’t complete until no lives are lost.

That’s why Fort Rucker is doing its part by holding the Ask, Care, Escort Suicide Intervention training course March 12-21 to make sure that the military’s leaders are well informed when it comes to suicide prevention, said Traci Dunlap, suicide prevention manager for the Army Substance Abuse Program.

The training is a once-a-career course, during which first-line supervisors and junior leaders learn not only about suicide prevention, but intervention in a more interactive, group setting, said Dunlap.

“This isn’t the typical ACE course,” she said. “The nature of this class is more inviting, and it creates much more conversation about the topic of suicide with lots of group activities and interaction rather than a typical classroom setting.

“That’s how we learn from each other and learn about the importance of suicide prevention – by talking with one another,” Dunlap continued. “I think this is all key to minimizing suicides that are happening in the Army.”

The course is composed of a four-hour core course to help Soldiers identify and know the risk factors, the protective factors and warning signs so that they can intervene and prevent a suicide if need be, said Shannon Avakian, ACE-SI facilitator.

“The training is not just about awareness, but intervention skills, as well, through group dynamics,” she said.

The Soldiers are taken through scenarios throughout the day involving three Soldiers and the different struggles they have to deal with, said Garry Westling, ACE-SI facilitator. The leaders must identify from the narrative what the risk factors and warning signs are seen through the actions of the Soldiers in the scenarios.

“We stress that the first-line supervisors (and junior leaders) communicate with their troops on an ongoing basis, so that they know what’s going on in their Soldiers lives, so the exercises reinforce that communicative aspect,” said Westling.

Each scenario culminates to a point with participants role-playing as the leader and the Soldier, and the leader asking the critical question, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”

“That’s an extremely important part of it,” said Westling. “People don’t want to ask that question, but that’s a barrier that you’ve got to break through.”

Avakian said this type of training garners better results because of the different people that attend from different walks of life.

“You get a group dynamic with different personalities, specialties and life experiences rather than having these leaders just sit here looking at slides,” she said. “We provide them with the scenario and they provide the answers by bouncing ideas off each other, and they learn more from that.”

After the core course, the participants go through a two-hour train-the-trainer course, during which they will take back what they learned throughout the ACE-SI course to their units and disseminate the information to their first-line leaders, said Avakian.

Capt. Puja Ghosh, D Company, 1st Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment, was among the attendees and said the training she received was not just an important part of her training as a leader, but a necessary one.

“Suicide has been an issue with the Army for quite some time, and, as a leader, it’s extremely important that we understand it and understand the resources that are available to our Soldiers to make sure that they are completely taken care of,” she said. “As a leader, I hope to be able to mitigate problems at the start, and I hope to ideally prevent even one Soldier from committing suicide – if I can do that, then it’s worth it.”

Although suicide prevention month is in September, Dunlap said it’s important to keep the topic fresh on people’s minds year round.

“If it’s in your mind year round, you’re just much more aware of what’s going on with those around you, and you’re aware of what people say and how they’re acting,” she said. “Hearing some of the stories during the class make people think, ‘Wow, I know somebody who went through that same thing.’

“We don’t want you to wait until September to say, ‘Oh, I had a friend that really was going through something but I didn’t help out,’” said Dunlap. “We want people to take a minute to look around and see that they probably have friends, Family members or co-workers who are going through quite a lot, and they should do what they can to help address those issues and handle them early on.”

This article was originally published at

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