ARMEDCOM first line leaders are key to a culture of care

What would a suicide-safer community look like? This is one of many questions students grapple with answering while attending an Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) class hosted by Army Reserve Medical Command.

The ASIST program is one of six training platforms within the Suicide Prevention Program and is considered the premier training platform for ‘gatekeepers’, which are individuals in leadership and supervisory roles.

Mr. Joseph Walser, the Suicide Prevention Program Manager for ARMEDCOM, explains why the train-the-trainer certification process is necessary for commanders and their Soldiers.

“This sixteen hour class is the best of the training platforms. It’s standardized and scripted. The material is heavily researched and we’re now on the eleventh iteration of updated training. This program is designed to give a special skillset to the gatekeepers within our community,” said Walser.

There is a lot of training required to ensure Soldiers and Families have what they need both at home and when a Soldier deploys, but Walser emphasizes that this training is critical and must be prioritized. 

“We’re really talking about readiness, which is ensuring you have the right tools in your toolkit to handle the situations in front of you as Soldiers and leaders. I think commanders analyze and mitigate risk all the time. I would like to ensure that the Suicide Prevention Program is not one of those areas where commanders decide they can assume some risk. It would be deadly to do so,” said Walser.

Maj. Gen. Mary Link, the commanding general for Army Reserve Medical Command, also stressed the program’s connection to readiness and its critical link to the individuals within her ranks. 

“Readiness starts with the Soldier, and whether it’s the medical aspect, or its suicide prevention, or its individual and unit training – its all about the person and how prepared they are for the challenges in their life,” said Link.

She also emphasized that the program must be more than annual briefings, and that first line leaders are the key to success, because they have the best opportunity to know their Soldiers, and bring them into the fold of the military family. 

“It’s important for people to understand that the Suicide Prevention Program is about caring. Caring for each and every one of our Soldiers,” said Link.

The ASIST program and its Pathway for Assisting Life (PAL) model are utilized by the U.S. Army Reserve to train leaders and key personnel in suicide intervention techniques so that individuals can go back to their units as a new capability for their commanders. 

But not just anyone can fill the role when selecting someone to attend ASIST.

The job really needs someone who is a good leader, said Walser. “They need to be dependable, mature, and have compassion. We even put that out to the field before holding classes. We’re asking this individual to take on a lot of responsibility.”

His advice to those who step up to the task?

“It’s important that each of us looks at ourselves as human beings with vulnerabilities – no one is perfect, and that is the lens you need to use when assisting someone who is considering taking their life,” said Walser. “People need to do some work on their personal bias’ and their values when dealing with others who are hurting.” 

As the Army works to strengthen Soldiers and build resilience across the force, Walser believes that the leadership climate at ARMEDCOM sets the program and its Soldiers up for success.

“ARMEDCOM’s headquarters has great leaders who genuinely care, and empower us to do our missions because they care about Soldiers. Our subordinate commands are doing everything they can to get at this, and they need to keep doing it,” said Walser.

Link also commended her commanders and leaders on their hard work and diligence, but cautioned that this training cannot be about checking a block.

“If we connect with our Soldiers and value them, then things will fall into place. I honestly believe that if we can reinforce this culture of care at the lowest level, than the metrics will take care of themselves,” Link concluded.

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