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News | July 28, 2022

Suicide prevention initiative puts people first at JRTC

By Jean Graves

The Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk kicked off the first iteration of safeTALK suicide prevention training during newcomers orientation July 25 at the Education Center.

In an effort to implement the senior mission commander’s “Putting People First” priority, all assigned personnel will participate in the four hour face-to-face training by March 31, 2023.

Christa Zayas, suicide prevention program manager at the JRTC and Fort Polk said the commanding general’s initiative is to have 100 percent of the installation trained to help the Soldiers better understand warning signs and help others contemplating suicide.

“Every Monday we will present safeTalk to in-processing Soldiers,” she said. “We also have more than 50 trained safeTalk trainers at the unit level. These trainers will start the safeTalk initiative within their organizational foot print to reach the CG’s goal.”

According to the workshop teaches participants how to prevent suicide by recognizing signs, engaging someone and connecting them to an intervention resource for further support.

Zayas said the goal is to prevent suicide by elevating the level of awareness within the community.

“People will be able to recognize signs and understand what to do when someone they know is having suicidal ideations,” she said. “This training will empower them to ask tough questions. SafeTALK gives participants a better understanding of what to do and how to react to someone who may be thinking of suicide.”

Zayas said the training is open to family members too.

“During suicide prevention month we will offer three training opportunities for the entire installation,” she said. “The training is held in the Directorate of Human Resources classroom Sept. 9, 16 and 22.”

Zayas said safeTalk training is also available with parental permission to adolescents 14 years and older, upon request.

Maj. Jeremiah Snyder, family life chaplain, garrison religious support office, was one of four trained safeTalk instructors on hand.

“Chaplains are some of the trainers, but we have trained personnel from a variety of military occupational specialties and ranks who will conduct training for new personnel and at their units” he said.

Snyder said there have been a variety of different suicide prevention trainings offered to Army personnel over the years.

“This training goes deeper than other products. Feedback so far is that Soldiers feel more empowered to act, respond and intervene,” he said. “Being aware, taking action by engaging in conversations, understanding the invitations suicidal individuals are giving out. Often times it takes people on the outside noticing a suicidal person, recognizing the signs and then connecting with them. I call it being politely intrusive. Being blunt and simply asking if they are thinking about killing themselves.”

Snyder said recipients of the training won’t be required to do a lot of intervention themselves, but rather knowing the appropriate resources with which to connect the person in crisis.

“I think everyone needs this training and I’m very excited about the commanding general’s concept,” he said. “I find there is a greater impact training the junior enlisted Soldiers because often a battle buddy will turn to their peers when they are having thoughts of suicide. They aren’t going to go up the chain of command, they are going to go to the person immediately to their right or their left.”

Lt. Col. Alexander Ragan, installation director of psychological health for JRTC and chief of behavioral health at Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital said the Army has experienced a decrease in suicides this year, however compared to the five year data active duty suicide rates are trending higher.

“I don’t know the exact reasons for the decrease, but I can speculate that we are doing better at capturing suicidal ideations earlier,” he said. “There are three stages to an intervention plan: Asking for help. Offering help. Accepting the help. Accepting help is the hardest. Providing safeTalk training to everyone will give more Soldiers the tools necessary to know what questions to ask and what resources to offer those considering suicide.”

Ragan said at BJACH the command is taking it a step further.

“In addition to getting everyone trained, our commander has created an internal resiliency working group,” he said. “We are trying to determine how we as leaders are taking care of our team to better take care of our patients.”

Ragan said at BJACH the command wants people to be happy and find satisfaction coming to work each day.

“In relation to safeTalk training and suicide prevention there are so many things we can do to help build resilience in our community,” he said. “From a behavioral health perspective, there is a continuum of help: self-help, buddy aid, professional non-medical help, primary care, specialty services.”

Ragan said safeTalk is designed to give peers tools to recognize when someone they care about is suffering and help them in a meaningful way.

“As a people first initiative, safeTalk training is designed to give individuals more and more confidence when someone comes to them in pain or is hurting,” he said. “This training will help each of us know what to do and where to take a suicidal person for additional support.”

Editor’s Note: To schedule safeTALK training for your organization contact the Fort Polk Suicide Prevention Program Manager at 337-531-6787 or
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