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Chaplains meeting focuses on resiliency in combating suicide

By Tech. Sgt. Erich B. Smith | National Guard Bureau | March 12, 2018

ARLINGTON, Va. – Chaplains and chaplain's assistants from throughout the National Guard gathered recently at the Herbert R. Temple Jr. Army National Guard Readiness Center Arlington Hall Station, here, for a training conference focused on building greater resiliency among Guard members, suicide prevention and ways chaplains can build support among each other.

"You and I have an incredible amount of influence over people," said Air Force Brig. Gen. Steve Chisolm, a chaplain and the director of the Office of the Joint Chaplain at the National Guard Bureau.  "[And] for such a time as this, you have been allowed to care for those men and women who desperately need you."

Chisolm said the event allowed the more than 50 chaplains who attended the conference to share information with each other so they could better address the needs of Guard members back at their home units.

"That cross flow of information enables them to learn and share what they know with others,"he said.

As part of that networking and information sharing, chaplains learned more about a variety of programs and ways of working that can help build resilient Guard members.

"They help you identity what is it that helps you become resilient and helps you add those aspects to your life,"he said, adding those items tie in directly to the chaplain’s mission to provide support, comfort, care and counseling to Soldiers and Airmen.

"That is squarely in the lane of the chaplain corps: ‘What can I do to help you be the most spiritually fit Airman or Soldier you can be?’" 

Building resiliency, Chisolm said, is the backbone of suicide prevention.

"If I am a resilient individual, I am maybe going to take a good punch in the stomach, but then [I’ll] get back up and maybe even go forward in a stronger capacity,"he said.

However, working to prevent suicide also means asking the right questions of service members who may be exhibiting signs of suicide ideation, said Dr. Kelly Posner, a clinical professor of medical psychology at Columbia University, who spoke during the event.

Some of those questions include directly asking those individuals if they have contemplated suicide or have taken steps to end their lives.

Asking those questions is about "breaking through the silence, connecting with a troop and building a path to resilience,"said Posner, who has researched and developed multiple methods of suicide intervention and prevention.

Not posing those questions can hinder the ability to fully identify warning signs, added Chisolm.

"Nobody is immune from [suicide],"he said. "No rank structure, no gender, no race - it’s out there for everyone." 

Having a larger community to build support from is another way to build resilience, said Chisolm, and during the conference chaplains touched on ways they work with local care providers, organizations and congregations to address the needs of Guard members seeking help.

"The idea is to give them some resources — not trying to convert, or postulate – but trying to help them with resources in the local community,"said Chisolm.

But when it comes to "caring for the caretaker,"Chisholm reminded chaplains that inspiring resiliency often starts with them.

"Make sure [Guard members] see that self-care, nurturing part of you,"he said, adding that chaplains are no different than anybody else. "In some instances, we may be impacted more because you and I have been called to share the burdens of those entrusted to us."