Intervention training provides tools to save Servicemembers

Former Guard Soldier working to combat suicide

By Gary Lott on July 9, 2012

If someone you knew was having feelings or thoughts of suicide, would you know what to say?

One former Servicemember in particular does.

As the Suicide Prevention Coordinator for the Washington National Guard, Harper Peterson trains and educates Soldiers, Airmen, family members and employers about the importance of suicide awareness, prevention and intervention in our communities.

"Suicide doesn't discriminate by age, gender, race, rank or education," he said.

Peterson teaches a suicide intervention workshop for the Joint Services Support Directorate for the Washington National Guard. The two-day Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) workshop is the best suicide intervention training he has seen.

"One life saved is worth two days of anybody's time," he said.

ASIST is an intensive, interactive and practice-dominated course created by LivingWorks, a major suicide-intervention training company.  It is designed to help caregivers not only recognize suicide risk, but also learn how to intervene.

LivingWorks' primary focus is to improve helper competencies to intervene with persons at risk of suicide. Its programs are the most widely used and most recognized suicide prevention-intervention training programs in the world.

"As any Soldier knows, you will never come back the same as you were when you first left," Peterson said. "That is why reintegration is so important, and we continue to find ways to improve it."

Directly after high school, Peterson joined the Marine Corps, where he worked in transportation during the Persian Gulf War. He changed to military police shortly after and left the Marine Corps in 2002 to spend more time with his daughter. He joined the Washington National Guard in 2006.

"As far as the military is concerned, we spend so much time training Soldiers to be prepared for what they may face while deployed overseas," he said. "But don't train them to turn it off as they reintegrate back into society."

Peterson plans to continue the fight against suicide after his military career.

"My goal is to continue teaching ASIST to teachers, social workers, first responders and anyone interested in helping to stop someone from taking their own life," he said.

He has even started his own organization, named Beeboose, on Facebook to bring awareness to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicide in local communities.

"There is a problem with suicide. People will acknowledge there is a problem, but they don't know what to do about it, don't understand it, and find avoiding it is easier," Peterson said. "This is unacceptable."