Training teaches service members to save lives

By Staff Sgt. Dillon White
70th Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

Editor’s Note: This story features the Rev. Ronald Feeser, an elder in the Arkansas Conference serving as a U.S. Air Force chaplain.

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md.—Every month, the Fort Meade garrison hosts Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training to increase safety on post and provide participants a lifelong, lifesaving skill.

For those interested, the free two-day course is a phone call away and open to all branches, military and civilian.

“This is the best suicide prevention program out of all the different programs I’ve ever seen,” said Marissa Pena, Fort Meade garrison Suicide Prevention Program manager. “I’ve been a social worker for 15 years and I’ve seen a lot of different programs.”

Pena hosted the first ASIST course on post in August of 2013, with an initial training course for instructors. From there, those initial instructors have helped teach the course.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “This program is working and making a difference. I encourage people to come. ASSIST makes it easy for anyone to be that caregiver. It’s like a CPR class; hopefully you won’t need it but if you do, you can help someone.”

Among participants at the January course was U.S. Air Force Capt. Lee Feldhausen, from the 70th ISR Wing.

“This far surpasses what you can learn sitting at a computer,” he said, during a group intervention simulation session. “It’s more than just a workplace skillset, it is a life skillset. At any point in your life you may be involved in a situation where you can fall back on the training that we received over the last two days and potentially save somebody’s life.”

Feldhausen said he was skeptical about the training prior to attending but that it was much better than he had expected. He intends to share his experience in the course with his squadron to increase awareness about suicide and how to prevent it.

U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Ronald Feeser from the 70th ISR Wing, an elder in the Arkansas Conference, instructs a class during Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training Jan. 16 in Argonne Hills Chapel. The course is held monthly and teaches participants how to help people struggling with suicidal thoughts and apply those skills in mock situations.  U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO BY STAFF SGT. DILLON WHITE

U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Ronald Feeser from the 70th ISR Wing, an elder in the Arkansas Conference, instructs a class during Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training Jan. 16 in Argonne Hills Chapel. The course is held monthly and teaches participants how to help people struggling with suicidal thoughts and apply those skills in mock situations.
U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO BY STAFF SGT. DILLON WHITE

“If anybody is slightly interested in participating with the program, they should,” he said. “Every unit should be interested in the program.”

Among the trainers of the two-day course was U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Ronald Feeser, from the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing.

“On day one we spend the morning talking about what experiences and attitudes toward suicide do we bring with us in the door; you never really fully check your attitudes and experiences when someone comes in,” he said. “So we help people connect and be aware of those—so if you have certain thoughts about it you know how those may influence or affect your ability to help somebody.”

During the afternoon, the needs of a person struggling with suicide are discussed so caregivers can meet them. The course’s second day includes mock interventions with the students.

Participants put the lessons into action during the afternoon of the second day in scenarios. Students pair up to practice their intervention skills as others watch. At the end of the scenario, classmates give one another feedback.

Feeser said this hands-on application sets the training apart from other suicide prevention courses.

“We’re constantly reinforcing things,” Feeser said. “When you sit in that seat and you apply it you say, ‘OK, what do I say now? Now what do I do?’ It forces you into using those tools and realizing how you would react in that situation.”

Feeser said knowing that more service members in the community are comfortable with discussing suicide and alert to the signs of someone struggling with thoughts about suicide makes him feel like his community is safer.