Chaplain team teaches troops Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – Chaplain (Maj.) Richard Dunn, 35th Infantry Division, and Chaplain (Capt.) Ronald Marshall, Army Central Command Operations Chaplain, Kansas Army National Guard, conducted Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training 25-26 Sept. at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. 

Soldiers throughout the region attended, with more than 25 Soldiers of the 35th Inf. Div. having earned the two-day certification training. Course objectives include learning how to recognize potential signs of risk, intervene, and develop effective suicide prevention and safety plans. The training helps to develop skills that can be put to use in both military and personal situations.

“You might think of ASIST training as Combat Life Saver training, but in a behavioral health context,” said Dunn. “ASIST is a good program and helps us to gain the confidence and the knowledge to engage people and save lives. Most people that are thinking about suicide probably want assistance.”

According to the Department of Defense 2014 Suicide Event Report, in 2014, there were 269 deaths by suicide among active component service members (compared to 259 in 2013). National Guard and Reserve components saw a significant decrease in suicide rates: there were 169 deaths by suicide (compared to 220 in 2013) among the selected reserve component in 2014, 80 in the reserve and 89 in the National Guard - an approximate 23% decrease.

“The skills we learned were very useful and helpful,” said ASIST participant Sgt. 1st Class Durant Whitlow, help desk non-commissioned officer in charge, 35th Inf. Div. “The class was very informal. It was really great to learn and understand how to assist somebody. I attended the Master Resiliency training several years ago, and the ASIST training was really great to add to those skills.” 

Other participants, like Spc. Cierra Murphy, help desk specialist, 35th Inf. Div., agreed.

“My biggest take-away from ASIST training is understanding that anyone can find themselves in this situation,” said Murphy. “I learned how to talk to someone who is having suicidal thoughts, and understand the person in a non-judgmental way to help them focus on life. The training teaches you ways to keep people safe until you can get them more competent professional help.” 

ASIST training is a proprietary curriculum developed by LivingWorks, an international organization with origins in Alberta, Canada. According to their website, in the year 2000, LivingWorks began providing bi-annual suicide intervention training to Army chaplains and chaplain assistants. 

In 2001, LivingWorks became the primary provider of intervention training for the Army, and in 2003 the Army held the first ever in-theatre suicide intervention training in Iraq. 

With more than 30 years of experience in the fight to prevent suicide and develop more aware and involved communities, LivingWorks trainer network consists of more than 7,500 trainers, with more than a million people around the world trained in ASIST.

The philosophical foundations of ASIST training are understanding suicide as a community health problem, learning intervention skills and strategies, and developing relationships that foster a candid and open approach. Soldiers can learn to enhance listening skills as well as developing a greater awareness of shifts in behavior patterns. 

“I really wish more people would take the training,” said Murphy. “It is very beneficial; particularly for small units. The trainers were awesome. It wasn’t death by PowerPoint. It was very engaging, and really good training.”

The training, provided by the chaplain team at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, contributes to a resilient, strong, capable and ready force in partnership with all Army assets throughout the region. 

“There are people, on any given day, that we encounter that may be at risk,” said Dunn. “I have used this training in real-life situations. It teaches us how to identify people at risk, and to not be so fearful of engaging them.”

The next available ASIST training will be offered 27-28 Nov., at the Camp Arifjan Education Center, across from the Zone 1 Chapel, from 0800 to 1600 both days. Advanced registration is required. The training is limited to a class size of 30 participants, and both days of training are required in order to earn the certification.

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