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Happy hour: Training uses humor to increase awareness

Bernie McGrenahan, comedian and host of the unconventional suicide prevention training program, “Happy Hour,” shares photos of his Family with audience members after the show at the post theater Sept. 11. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Bernie McGrenahan, comedian and host of the unconventional suicide prevention training program, “Happy Hour,” shares photos of his Family with audience members after the show at the post theater Sept. 11. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Published: September 18, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (September 18, 2014) -- September is Suicide Prevention Month and Fort Rucker is doing what it can to increase awareness in an unconventional way.

Fort Rucker Soldiers and civilians were able to experience a new twist to suicide prevention training with “Happy Hour” presented by Bernie McGrenahan, a stand-up comedian who has been featured on many late night TV shows, Sept. 10-11.

“This is a new way to consider viewing the topic (of suicide),” said Traci Dunlap, Fort Rucker Army Substance Abuse Program suicide prevention manager. “We need to be aware and understand that it could happen to anybody, so if you learn to be a little more sensitive to it, maybe you can help the people around you.”

That was the goal of the comedy show – to make people more sensitive to the issue, she said. The show was designed as a two-part program. The first part was a 30-minute stand-up comedy show that had audience members in stitches.

“I thought he was really good and it was really funny,” said Spc. Guadalupe Andrede, A Company, 1st Battalion, 11th Aviation Regiment. “This was definitely better than sitting through PowerPoint slides.”

Fellow Soldier Sgt. 1st Class Tuesday Brooks, A Co., 1st B., 11th Avn. Regt., agreed.

“I thought this was awesome – it was a great, new type of approach that I’ve never seen before to suicide awareness training,” she said. “Having a comedian to tell his private story was an awesome idea and it really touched me.”

Although the first part of the program is designed to get peoples attention with laughter, which many say is the best medicine, the second part of the program is of McGrenahan’s personal knowledge and testimony of how alcohol and suicide has affected his life.

The comedian took the audience through his own journey on a downward spiral through life, which started in high school when he started drinking at an early age. He talked about how he thought he was the one in control of his drinking and how he could control it if he wanted to.

He was ordered to see a counselor at the age of 20 because of his drinking, and when she asked if he thought he had a drinking problem, his answer was always, “No.”

After six months of counseling, his counselor said to him, “Bernie, you have a drinking problem … your drinking has affected your character, you finances, your job performance and your relationships with women. If you don’t quit drinking, alcohol is going to affect your life and your career.”

In that session, McGrenahan told his counselor that he would compromise and cut back on drinking, to which she chuckled and laughed.

“That’s the illusion of a problem drinking,” she said to him. “You’re going to control it, cut back and drink respectfully every once in a while – you’re in denial, Bernie. It’s never going to happen.”

He said he left the counselor’s office and tried to take his own advice to cut back, but refused to quit, and just one year later he lost his job because of his drinking. Eventually he was able to get a handle on his drinking, but it had now taken a hold of his younger brother, Scott.

McGrenahan said Scott began drinking and doing drugs with his friends and he tried to talk to him about his drinking problem, but his brother told McGrenahan the same things he used to tell himself – he had it under control.

He received a call from his sister one day telling him to rush home, and when he got there he saw three police cars and an ambulance on his front lawn. His brother had shot himself in the backyard.

“My 19-year old brother … when I left that house that day, I tried to tell him that I loved him. I tried to tell him that we aren’t the type to have just one drink with dinner … we drink all the time,” said McGrenahan. “I said, ‘Talk to somebody, Scott,’ but my brother didn’t want to be judged. He didn’t want to go see a counselor.

“From somebody who has lost someone they love to suicide, I pray that you men and women never hurt yourselves,” he said. “Go seek help, talk to your commanders, talk to your chaplains, talk to ASAP. That bullet didn’t just go through (my brother) that day. Everyone in my Family took that bullet that day.”

McGrenahan asked that people look out for others for the signs that something is wrong.  And if they notice something is wrong, to say something.

“I saw my brother was off track, but I didn’t put it together,” he said. “I never thought he would go that far. We need to be aware of (the signs) when someone is really in a tough spot.”

And it was that personal account of the story that had audience members thinking about what they could do to make sure something like this doesn’t happen in their lives.

“When he started talking about his personal (experience), it made it more emotional because you could hear the emotion in his voice,” said Brooks. “The biggest thing I took away from this is that it can happen to anybody and it’s happening to a lot of people. So, we have to keep an eye out.”

For more information on suicide prevention or ASAP, call 255-7010.

This article was originally published at

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