CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa --
CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan – 15 Marines and Sailors sit, breathing warm air into their face masks, socially distanced, eyes forward, looking at the man in front of them and absorbing his every word. These service members are eager to learn and eventually share their knowledge on preventing suicide.
These U.S. Marines and Sailors from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) attend a two-day class to become Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) First-Aid caregivers.
“ASIST is designed to equip Marines and Sailors to take care of each other peer to peer,” says Lt. Cmdr. Jeremy Blythe, the 31st MEU Command Element (CE) Chaplain. “This class also amplifies that ‘no Marine left behind’ mentality, and really shows the importance of being observant and using discernment in knowing when one is at risk; not only for suicide, but being aware of those stressors in their peers life that could lead down that path.”
On the first day, the Marines and Sailors get acquainted and dive head-first into the curriculum.
“The instructors focused on [us] noticing those who could be in distress and how to approach them and go about asking them questions,” said Maurice Fitzgerald, a Navy Corpsmen with the 31st MEU. “They gave us a cheat-sheet to keep, which is a guide on talking to someone who is dealing with suicidal thoughts or who are experiencing stress that could potentially lead to suicide.”
For many of the students, suicide is a touchy subject. During the first day, the service members had the chance to share the way that they feel on the matter and give their personal information on why they feel the way they do about suicide and the experiences they’ve had.
“When I shared my experiences about suicide,” stated Cpl. Brandon Salas, a videographer with the 31st MEU, “I realized that it affected me in ways that I didn’t notice before. It’s important to speak openly about suicide with others and be vigilant about seeing the signs.”
Following the introductions, the service members were divided into two small groups. While in those small groups, one instructor led each group in exercises that allowed the group members to get to know each other and learn each other’s opinions and experiences.
“The small groups are good because by breaking up into that setting, a bit smaller, less people, I believe people will begin to open up a bit more in sharing what our beliefs and attitudes are about suicide,” says Blythe. “And in that setting as well, after building those relationships with the others, sharing the experiences we have had with suicide could bring the members together and create more of a bond and that allows us to realize we have all been affected and that we can come together to make a difference. And from there, we are able to learn from each other in the different exercises that we do in the groups.”
On the second day, the class went deeper into talking to those who may be struggling and ensuring the students understand the full process of the conversation and when to ask the hard questions.
“The chart used was created by LivingWorks,” said Blythe. “It is made up of psychologists and ministers and other volunteers from Canada. The tools created by ASIST can be used to counsel and teach others who are seeking knowledge on the subject as it can also be used as a guide to speak to those who need help.”
Regardless of occupation or rank, military life is naturally challenging and stress is common for all Marines. Effective suicide prevention starts with promoting healthy behaviors by normalizing the seeking of support, instilling hope and confidence, and increasing people to people connections across the Marine Corps. The value of training Marines and Sailors on how to intervene when one is struggling cannot be measured. “No Marine left behind” is a mindset which includes the emotional wellbeing of each and every service member. The change starts with us.
The DSTRESS line (1-877-476-7734 or 098-970-7734 for overseas) is a 24/7/365 Marine-specific call center providing phone, chat, and video-telephone capability for anonymous, non-medical, short-term and solution-focused counseling for various causes of stress. Additional resources can be found at the Marine and Family Programs website: www.usmc-mccs.org/services/support/suicide-prevention/#local.
The 31st MEU, the Marine Corps’ only continuously forward deployed MEU, provides a flexible and lethal force ready to perform a wide range of military operations as the premier crisis response force in the Indo-Pacific region.