PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – In the last two-years, an alarming threat has become more and more prevalent through the ranks of the U.S. Army - suicide.
According to military reports, the number of U.S. Army Soldiers who committed suicide in 2009 was a record-breaking 245. The first half of 2010 has exceeded that pace with 145 suicides in only six-months.
Last month was the highest single month of suicides of the year, claiming the lives of 32 servicemembers. Fortunately, Task Force Iron Rakkasan has had none, thanks in part to great hands-on leadership and well-resourced training, said U.S. Army Capt. Erik Alfsen, chaplain for 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment.
Hoping to keep the trend going, Alfsen has been working with the battalion’s leaders to reinforce the skills necessary to spot soldiers in need.
One of the recent programs developed to help train Soldiers in suicide awareness and prevention is Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training.
“The two-day course shifted the focus of leaders from suicide prevention training and statistics to recognizing risk and learning to intervene,” said Alfsen. “I think the use of visual aids, videos, and role-playing greatly helped the Soldiers’ awareness and capabilities.”
About 25 Soldiers attended the course, with each platoon having at least one leader present. According to Alfsen, a Springfield, Mo. native, the goal was to help ensure leaders at all levels were informed and able to help their Soldiers.
Those who attended seemed to agree with Alfsen that the training was worthwhile. “This program will definitely help the Iron Rakkasans, and will possibly increase the number of lives saved,” said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jorge Vera, a native of Los Angeles, who is assigned to 3-187. “I think it’s a good extension of the programs offered by mental health experts, who have helped reduce the numbers of suicides in the Army.”
“By the conclusion of the training, Soldiers were instilled with confidence and equipped with the knowledge they need to make a difference in the life of an at-risk Soldier,” he said. “This event will have long lasting benefits for the Soldiers of this battalion.”
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