DOD Recognizes ‘Connect to Protect’ as Best Suicide Prevention Program | Article

ARLINGTON, Va. – Since 2016, the Department of Defense has honored exemplary programs from each military department, for their outstanding efforts to increase suicide prevention and community awareness through engagement throughout the month of September , which is Suicide Prevention Month.

This year, the U.S. Army Garrison’s White Sands Missile Range, White Sands, New Mexico, was selected as the recipient of the 2020-2021 DoD Recognition for Suicide Prevention.

“The Department recognizes that suicide prevention requires year-round dedication and honors programs that have positively influenced suicide prevention efforts,” said Gilbert Cisneros, Under Secretary of Defense.

The USAG WSMR Army Substance Abuse Program collaborated with other agencies in the community to host several suicide prevention activities throughout the year.

“Connect to Protect: Be There”, was WSMR’s message and focus throughout 2021-2021. ASAP and other organizations within their community held several suicide prevention activities as part of a year-round prevention effort.

Despite COVID-19 restrictions and protocol, WSMR has been creative in developing 12 activities to raise community awareness. Four of the main activities were the push-up challenge, community engagement, training and a public service announcement leading up to an overall event, Connect to Protect: Train Your Mind, Challenge your Body.

Push-up Challenge

ASAP engaged with service members, DOD employees, and family members to participate in a push-up challenge on September 1, 2020. The challenge required participants to perform 17 push-ups per day for one month.

The number 17 was chosen to represent the daily number of veterans believed to have committed suicide.

Pledge

Community members signed a suicide prevention pledge to demonstrate their personal commitment to prevention. According to the WSMR ASAP team, engagement is a promise to be there for teammates, family and friends by checking in with a friend or colleague, learning about available resources, being the one to reach out first, and lead by example by creating an environment where asking for help is a strength. The campaign was launched in October 2020 and signed pledges were published from December 2020 to February 2021.

Coaching

Over 56 training sessions were delivered to soldiers and army civilians, using the Ask, Care, Escort training method. According to the EAP coordinator, class attendance continued to increase after each class, with students staying after class to ask more questions about attempted suicides. The training was offered virtually and face-to-face with over 1,550 participants in total.

Message of public interest

The WSMR ASAP team produced a 2-minute public service announcement called WSMR Let’s Talk with the help of members of the community and the visual information branch to improve prevention efforts by reducing suicidal behavior.

The PSA illustrated the importance of a community-based approach to prevention by depicting actors finishing each other’s sentences to emphasize how we should pay attention to warning signs and not be afraid to ask if someone is considering suicide. The video ends with closing remarks from the WSMR Commanding General and the Command Post Sergeant Major.

Connect to protect: train your mind, challenge your body

This event was organized to kick off Suicide Prevention Month 2021. According to Sandra Class, WSMR ASAP Program Manager, this event aimed to physically challenge participants while raising awareness of the resources available at WSMR.

“The Department applauds these recipients for their unwavering commitment and imaginative efforts to advance awareness and emphasize support for service members, their families, and DOD civilian personnel,” Cisneros said.