So there I was giving the last of my platoon-level briefings about suicide prevention. This was the twelfth, and I must admit I was getting a bit drained from doing them.
The Army seems to feel that PowerPoint is the panacea for just about every occasion, though lately they've branched out a bit into a somewhat 'interactive' video presentation about this topic as well. My experience generally is that when the PowerPoint slide goes up on the screen, my brain shuts off.
I suspect I'm not alone in that experience, but I have no empirical data to support that hypothesis.
Anyway, I had decided I wanted to do something different regarding suicide prevention briefings: smaller groups, no PowerPoint, no set script (though I did have certain points I wanted to cover each time). I believe this is too important a topic to risk putting people to sleep with the same old, same old.
So I asked my Command to let me talk to smaller groups in a more engaging, personal manner than in some darkened theatre setting, with the lights low, and personnel snoozing in the back. Much to my delight, though not surprisingly, my Command responded with a FRAGO (fragmentary order; "everyone must do this") almost immediately, guaranteeing that I'd speak with every Soldier in the Battalion, but in those smaller groupings.
Unfortunately, I'm uniquely qualified to talk about this issue, and decided to bring those qualifications to bear on my presentation.
Most of the sessions took place at 0800 in a room off the DFAC, so the Soldiers could be sure to get breakfast, before, during, or after. For the most part, we managed to get about 96% of the Battalion through the briefings during the initially-scheduled sessions.
Fortunately for the Soldiers, what I had to say was brief, to the point, and very honest. They seemed to be paying attention, and my talk prompted a number of my guys and gals to come speak with me later. The senior NCOs with more than 20 years in the military told me they'd never heard a briefing quite like that.
A couple of weeks later one of the new guys in the unit who'd recently been promoted to PFC (Private, First Class) came to my office with concerns about his buddy, and when I asked him about what he'd done he said, "I remembered what you'd told us during that suicide briefing you gave us, so that's just what I did" in dealing with the friend's situation.
Everything seems to have worked out well for the friend, from what I can tell so far.
After one of those briefings a couple of the Soldiers who'd attended came up to me (separately), expressing concerns about one of the guys in their Squad. I asked the First Sergeant if I could speak with that Soldier, and within a matter of a few minutes, Top had him in my office.
This young man has had a very difficult, very painful, and very scary life so far, and he's not really been on this earth all that long. Because of his personal, familial, and social history, he doesn't trust many people, and doesn't have many good friends in the unit. Again because of his history, he came to the Army destitute, having lived close to the bone financially most of his short life.
We spoke for quite a while, and much to his surprise, it seemed, he really opened up and spoke of things he says he's never told anyone else in the Army.
One of his hopes during this deployment, he confided in me, is to be able to save up enough money to buy an iPod, so he'll feel more motivated when he's at the gym working out. Given everything else in his life at the moment, though, he wasn't sure just when that would be.
I happened to have an iPod on me while we were talking, which came into my possession through the largesse of my friends Susan and Dan (whose wedding we celebrated in the mid-90s in California), and whom I count among my dearest friends.
I reached into my shirt pocket, and gave it to him.
You should have seen the look on his face!
I love my job.
(Thanks, S & D. You made this kid's month, I think!)
Blessings and peace to one and all,
Fr. Tim, SJ