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Suicides kill more than combat

Washington National Guard reaches out during Suicide Stand Down Day

“Guardians of the Gate” Kevin Briggs speaks with hundreds of Washington National Guard servicemembers attending a Suicide Stand Down Day Sept. 25. Photo credit: Gary Lott

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Don't be afraid to reach out. That was the overarching message of this year's Suicide Stand Down Day event, hosted by the Washington National Guard's Joint Services Support Directorate (JSS) and Suicide Prevention Program.

"Nothing is worse to us than a loss by suicide," said Washington National Guard Adjutant General, Major General Bret Daugherty.  "We've lost more people to suicide, since 2008, than we have from all that were lost in combat."

Daugherty was one of the four guest speakers that spoke at this event, other speakers included retired CSM Tom Adams (who now helps servicemembers find employment), domestic violence and suicide survivor Cathy Fitzer, and the event's keynote speaker, Kevin Briggs.

After serving at Ft. Lewis, Briggs worked on San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, where he personally prevented 200 suicides. He's become known as the "Guardian of the Gate."

"What would you say to this girl standing out on the ledge, ready to jump?" Briggs opened his speech with.

Reaching out doesn't come easily and can present struggles on either side.

"The person you wish to reach out to may resent you at first and deny any issues," said Briggs.  "It's up to you to have the confidence to tell them what you have seen, that you are concerned for and about them, and that you really have their best interest in mind."

Throughout his speech, Briggs continued to reiterate a central message: reach out.

"Please seek help if you feel as if you're out of control, moody, cannot sleep, have flashbacks, or are not feeling like you used to," Briggs said.

"Don't be afraid to talk with your brothers and sisters (military family) about issues bothering you, or signs you see on another person," said Briggs.  "Who knows, they may be really suffering and you may make the difference between life and death for them."

Just talking "to talk" isn't what Briggs is referring to, though.

"A person can tell if you have empathy or not, and whether you are really listening or just making small talk," said Briggs.  "Listen with your ears and your heart, so you can really hear and feel what's going on with someone. Many, many times all someone is looking for is someone who will take the time and listen to them, not judge, argue, or tell them what they should do.

"It is a courageous act to reach out," said MG Daugherty.  "The JSS (Joint Services Support Directorate - Washington National Guard) is a resource for you and your unit."

Along with suicide prevention, the JSS houses 11 other programs such as Sexual Assault Prevention and Employment & Family Programs, all in one building. This allows soldiers, airmen and their families access to a one-stop location to receive assistance.

The JSS has found that servicemembers who seek assistance are usually needing help in more than one area. By providing multiple resources in one location, the JSS is able to save the servicemember time and provide a "wider net" of support.

This model of a one-stop approach is also being followed by various mental health entities across the state, such as the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health Summit. The summit provides service for the military and can better benefit servicemembers by providing more resources in one centralized location.

WDVA helped promote the event, and its director, Alfie Alvarado-Ramos attended along with State Representative Tina Orwall. Additionally, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a state proclamation for "Suicide Stand Down Day WA," which he signed earlier this month.

National Guard servicemembers spread out across the state were also able to view the entire event from an online live weblink set up by the Camp Murray Visual Information (VI) team.

The goal of spreading an informative and positive suicide prevention/awareness message across the state was just one of many ways that the Guard's suicide program intended to "reach out" to connect with the servicemembers it serves.

"Look for signs of despair and crisis in people, and be ready to have that courageous conversation," added Briggs.  "Reach out ... you may just save a life."

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