By Mrs. Amy Ruff, NDARNG Resilience, Risk Reduction, and Suicide Prevention (R3SP).
Welcome to the first Risk Reduction Navigator (R2N) commentary! These editorials will focus on the NDNG’s most valuable asset, our people. The R2N will contain various educational topics and prevention strategies to assist our Service Members, military families and civilian community members to navigate their way to empowerment, improved lives and success in achieving holistic health. Service Members are the foundation of the NDNG – they are trained, equipped and personally ready both physically and non-physically. Most people can make a clear connection between the physical health of our Soldiers and Airmen and their ability to be mission ready. Physical health pillars include fitness training and testing, such as the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT). However, at times, our vision is blurred when managing the non-physical aspects of a holistic approach to health. Non-physical pillars include sleep, nutrition and family, as well as psychological, spiritual and social health. The NDNG would be unable to fulfill its mission, vision or purpose without ready and resilient Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen.
It is the intent of the R2N to bring attention to those issues that pose a risk to readiness and resilience while highlighting those protective factors which increase Service Member’s ability to be mission ready. It is with this intent in mind, that we user September, National Suicide Prevention Month, as an opportunity to highlight risks and protective factors associated to the mental health of our force. According to the Department of Defense 2018 Annual Suicide Report, suicide rates among National Guard members continued to rise, and at a higher pace than that of active-duty troops. Nearly 31.6 per 100,000 National Guardsmen died by suicide in 2018, up from 29.8 per 100,000 in 2017 and 27.1 in 2016.
Due to the increased risk to our Guard Members, we highlight the importance of our social health, focusing on our connectedness to family, friends, co-workers, peers, battle buddies/wingmen and our community. R2N encourages you to use ACE (Ask, Care, Escort) skills. First, ASK the difficult question, “Are you contemplating suicide?” Then, CARE for our Service Members by listening and expressing empathy. Finally, ESCORT the Service Member to services and professionals who are qualified to intervene. Chief Master Sgt. Jeff Miller, state command chief, discusses his struggles with this difficult subject.
Brig. Gen. Jackie Huber, deputy adjutant general, and Command Sgt. Maj. Derek Heck, N.D. state command sergeant major, highlight both the importance of social connectedness in their address to Service Members, military families and civilian community members.
The NDNG Soldiers and Airmen are not immune to mental health issues including suicide ideations, attempts and contemplations. In an effort to mitigate these risks, we rely heavily on prevention training, reducing stigmas associated to seeking help and encouraging battle buddies/wingmen to provide peer support to their fellow Service Members. We realize the best prevention efforts are from those Service Members with first-hand experience as survivors. NDNG Service Members Sgt. Nathan Griffin and Spc. Christopher Pfau share their stories breaking down the stigma associated with mental health.
The R2N looks forward to the opportunity to use this platform as a means to bring attention to factors that impact a Service Member’s ability to be mission ready. For 24/7/365 support, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).