By 1st Sgt. Paul Meeker
Louisiana National Guard Reintegration Office
NEW ORLEANS – Members of the 205th Engineer Battalion, 225th Engineer Brigade, learned how to respond effectively and compassionately to a fellow Soldier, friend or family member who might be considering suicide at special training, May 29-30.
This training, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), expands on the Ask, Care, Escort (ACE) model all LANG Soldiers learn during yearly required training.
According to ASIST trainer, Chaplain (Capt.) Brian Ray of Pineville, La., ACE is a good place to start, but it’s not enough to ensure that someone actually gets the level of support and care they need to move beyond suicidal thinking so they can start living productively again.
ASIST training teaches Soldiers and Airmen to effectively listen and respond to someone in distress. This involves several steps that builds upon the ACE model but requires a deeper level of “patience, persistence, respect and care” said Ray, the Strong Bonds Program Manager for the LANG.
“We’re already taught to ask, care and escort, but I feel like this gives us the training that we need to get through to Soldiers or civilians … to get to the root of the problem and get them to the right place,” said Sgt. Amber Prestenbach of the 2225th Multi-Role Bridge Company, 205th Eng. Bn.
“You really learn how to respond to someone’s statement that they’ve been thinking about suicide. You learn how to actually provide better care for them,” said Prestenbach, who hails from Lafitte, La.
For instance after asking someone in distress if they’re thinking about suicide (the first ACE step) ASIST teaches how to listen to the person’s story and pick up any positives, however few, that might be reasons for living. Examples could be a close relationship with a sibling, a sick relative that needs help or a beloved pet.
“This training is a process; it’s the steps you have to take … to get them to the point of getting help. It’s hearing them; it’s listening to their story. Before this [training] I would be more impulsive saying ‘No, no – you don’t want to do this,’ instead of just listening to them,” said Spc. Perry Degelos of Covington, La., who serves with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 205th Eng. Bn.
After helping someone discover possible reasons for hope, ASIST teaches how to develop a “safety plan” that addresses the immediate situation through the next 24 hours. This usually means helping the person in distress identify caring family or friends who might step up and help.
After putting the safety plan into action, participants are taught to consider what else needs to be done to ensure safety during the next week, month and beyond. This usually means getting more knowledgeable people involved like a counselor or therapist who can provide higher levels of care.
The ASIST training that Soldiers and Airmen receive is facilitated by Daniel Lubofsky, who is the suicide prevention program manager for the LANG. He facilitates the ASIST training throughout the state, supplies training resources and tracks reported incidents of suicidal ideation and attempts for the LANG’s command group.
Lubofsky, also a drilling staff sergeant with the 1022nd Engineer Company, 527th Engineer Battalion, said that the LANG has set a goal of having five percent of its Guardsmen trained by the end of this fiscal year, eight percent by the end of FY 2015 and 10 percent by the end of FY 2016.
The director of the LANG’s Reintegration Office, which oversees all resiliency training, Lt. Col. Ed Bush of Sunset, La., believes that several initiatives LANG has developed over the last few years like full-time job counselors, deployment transition advisors and psychological health providers are making a difference.
“We believe we’re on the right path, and doing many things right,” said Bush. “It’s all about taking care of our Soldiers, Airmen and their families, making them better able to cope with the challenges of life.”