Fort Riley, Kansas



‘Devil’ brigade leaders test suicide prevention pilot seminar

By Suet Lee-Growney | 1ST INF. DIV. POST | September 15, 2017

     “We do all of this because we value the life of one Soldier,” said David Easterling, Fort Riley Suicide Prevention Program manager. “The value of a Soldier’s life is our nation’s treasure.”

    Soldiers in leadership roles from 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, put their heads together during a suicide prevention seminar Sept. 6.

     The pilot program with 1st ABCT, 1st Inf. Div., held at the Mission Training Complex, was a joint effort of the Suicide Prevention Program, Army Substance Abuse Program, Irwin Army Community Hospital, Office of the Staff Judge Advocate and “Devil” brigade senior leaders. The focus of the seminar was to discuss the two main risks that lead to suicide in Soldiers.

     “We focus on two of the stressors, which is substance abuse and pending legal actions,” said Brandon French, Army Substance Abuse Program coordinator. “The idea behind it is to answer information that may change the conversation that (leaders) have with their Soldiers.”

     Easterling said the nature of the seminar was to share information to engage leaders. This program has been in the works since May.

     “This is not a class where we are going to try and pound into you how to be an engaged leader, ” Easterling said. “We believe (leaders) are there, but engaged leaders and all of us in truth need those skills — that inside, that further information — so when we are engaged with our Soldiers, we know how to better act with them.”

     Easterling said the timing of this test program is relevant to Devil brigade because it is a high-risk period for them.

     “First brigade has just returned from a deployment,” he said. “The honeymoon phase of that reintegration is over. Life has happened again and that’s where we’ve seen traditionally a lot of stressors come out and there will be increased risks of not only suicide, but issues with family advocacy and alcohol and legal issues.”

     Additionally, Easterling hopes this new format of prevention and discussion will affect change and reduce risks.

     “The real hope that I have is that there is a leader here (who) has heard something that has triggered a thought in (the leaders’) minds of the Soldiers that they are working with now,” he said. “They all have Soldiers who have issues, they all have Soldiers (who) have needs and hopefully by bringing this awareness to them in a different light and different format, they’ll go back and affect change in their footprints.”

     During the forum, leaders were educated on the compounding effect of alcohol use and how to look out for signs of problems in Soldiers who are not on the radar for substance abuse. Anonymous suicide case studies were discussed to better understand the nature of the problem and identify recurring dilemmas encountered while handling suicidal ideations.

     Col. Charles S. Armstrong, commander of Devil brigade, shared his experience on coping with the suicide of his close friend in 1990.

     “There is not a single day that goes by I don’t blame myself and I think of him constantly,” Armstrong said. “So I’m very, very emotional about this … I’d like to think that I’m a pretty resilient person, but that doesn’t mean that stuff doesn’t freaking hurt.”

      Armstrong shared his feelings about coping with grief and how he wants to encourage leaders to be more vigilant about seeing risk factors in their Soldiers.

     “Every single time I read a blotter, it hurts,” he said. “Every time we have a death in this brigade, it hurts. It hurts me personally … My personal opinion is that if we can get everybody else to feel that same way — if we can get our squad leaders to feel that same way — and to take it personal, and for it to hurt, and for it to suck, then perhaps nobody is going to complain about the counseling that we’re going to have to do.”

    Armstrong also urged the leaders in his brigade to take advantage of the seminar, speak frankly and be an active participant in the conversation.

     “This isn’t some mandatory thing,” he said. “This is interactive. Talk it through, air stuff out. If you have frustrations with something or you run into roadblocks in something, just air it all out. We are all in there, we can figure this all out together.”

     An idea Armstrong contributed to the discussion was he wanted Soldiers to be more open about their problems they overcame, so when another fellow comrade is going through a similar adversity, leaders know with who to connect him or her. He said this open book technique might help prevent Soldiers from making poor decisions, such as abusing alcohol or breaking the law.

    “There is nothing in this formation that any of our Soldiers are going through that somebody else in the formation hasn’t successfully navigated,” he said. “Then why aren’t our monthly meetings being able to identify this Soldier who has went through this successfully (and) this Soldier who is in crisis, and getting them to help each other? … But we can’t do it because we don’t know.”

     The attendees participated in the question and answer portion of the seminar. They discussed suicide risks and how to handle the issue through the break period and even carried the conversation past the MTC closing time in the parking lot.

      Capt. Matt Allard, Company F, 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st ABCT, was one of them.

     “It’s good to get everybody in the same room and address the issues,” Allard said. “It’s good for me. It’s good to get on the same page and understand and see all of the organizations are actually involved in it and attempting to streamline the process and identifying the holes. The whole point is helping Soldiers.”

     Allard said he hopes after this pilot seminar is over, the Suicide Prevention Program can extend this type of discussion to junior leaders to bridge the gap of communication with senior leaders.

     “It gives them the resources to understand what’s applicable and beneficial to look for in each Soldier — and identify any of those triggers that is potentially going on in a Soldier’s life,” he said. “I think it’s the right approach and that’s where we need to go to prevent suicides. It’s a huge issue. I think where it needs to go is helping to streamline the process.”

      What Allard said was on the same page as the organizers’ goals for the seminar.

     “Engaged leaders are the answer, but the engaged leaders need to know that when they are there, how to respond, how to help, how to have that empathy,” Easterling said. “We are hoping that this leaders’ seminar can be blossomed out … possibly even creating a suicide prevention conference.”


Tag suicide prevention