Eighteen sergeants from throughout the 9th Marine Corps District recently returned from New Orleans with training the Corps hopes will help stem the highest suicide rates Corps has seen since 1995.
Faced with 41 suicides and 146 attempts in 2008, the Corps’ top leaders are looking to their noncommissioned officers’ savvy and experience to reduce further tragedies, and the new Noncommissioned Officer Suicide Prevention Course gives them a head start as unit trainers.
Trainers will teach the three-hour annual course when personnel from across the region convene at their respective headquarters for all-hands training.
The new, highly interactive course is designed to keep participants more involved than previous suicide prevention programs through videos, multimedia and group interactions.
“It’s not somebody standing in front of a classroom telling you ‘Here are your enabled-learning objectives,’” said Sgt. Cory Tepfenhart, suicide prevention NCO for district headquarters. “It’s completely interactive. Everybody in the class is somewhat of an instructor because they’re all giving personal experiences.”
Sgt. Jereme Edwards, suicide prevention NCO for RS Indianapolis, finds the training method of sharing experiences to be very effective. He shared his own experience during the course.
While Edwards was on duty with his unit in Hawaii, a troubled Marine in his barracks was being monitored by his unit leaders. After the Marine’s leaders stepped out, leaving the Marine alone, Edwards went to check on him. He found the Marine attempting to hang himself and quickly intervened. He said this encounter made suicide real to him.
He said he found that everyone attending the course also had some connection to a person who has attempted or committed suicide, which furthered his understanding of the problem’s severity.
The Marine he encountered was fortunate to live and work on a base surrounded by fellow service members who had been regularly trained on suicide prevention and knew the signs of someone at risk. With substations spread across 12 states, recruiters don’t have that luxury.
“Here, a Marine may get to a point where he feels like he’s alone – that’s another reason for the course,” Edwards said. “Letting your Marines know, ‘Hey, I am here for you. If you have a problem, come talk to me,’ and there (are) other ways to deal with things.”
To counter this challenge, Edwards stresses the importance of getting to know fellow Marines beyond what they do at work.
“Out here, our staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge makes it a point to come around and talk to everybody at least once a day, to make sure you’re ‘good,’” Edwards said. “He asks you about your family. He asks you about your kids. He makes it a point to get to know you.”
Sgt. Maj. Scott Holt, sergeant major of RS Kansas City, is most concerned about recruiters struggling to handle the expectations of the job. He says many new Marines on recruiting have difficulty balancing family lives and their work load. With the new suicide prevention course, he believes his Marines will be prepared to identify recruiters who may be struggling and know how to take care of them.
“I think it’s going to help them out tremendously,” Holt said. “We always had those small unit leaders doing some of that, but this is really going to expose it to all the NCOs. No matter what your leadership level is, you’re going to have a tool in your toolbox to help you identify certain (warning signs).”
Gunnery Sgt. Michael Hounshell, the district safety manager, said if Marines have an issue that’s negatively affecting their life on a daily basis, then it’s OK to ask for help. The course also stresses this topic.
“It’s OK to request to see the chaplain,” Hounshell said. “The word needs to get out there that the Marines have got to be comfortable with their command-level leadership; knowing that they will be taken care of if they have an issue that’s bothering them.”
The new course shows Marines the kind of leadership it takes to see the signs of those at risk and empower them with the knowledge to handle the situation. Abundant resources are available to Marines, as well as their families, at the Marine Corps Community Services Web site, www.usmc-mccs.org/suicideprevent. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and National Suicide Hotline, 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433), are also available to anyone seeking help.
9th Marine Corps District Suicide Prevention NCOs
9MCD HQ - Sgt. Cory Tepfenhart (816) 843-3927
9MCD HQ - Sgt. Phillip Berry (816-843-3986
RS Chicago - Sgt. Nathaniel Knuckles (708) 755-1240
RS Chicago - Sgt. William Sublette (847) 864-0555
RS Des Moines - Sgt. Brenton Coderre (515) 727-3488
RS Des Moines - Sgt. Michael Gozalka (515) 727-3488
RS Kansas City - Sgt. Jesse Falke (816) 891-0969
RS Kansas City - Sgt. Demarcus Mitchell (816) 891-0969
RS Indianapolis - Sgt. Jereme Edwards (317) 554-0503
RS Indianapolis - Sgt. Michael Teegarden (317) 554-0554
RS Lansing - Sgt. Lukas Atwell (517) 882-1892
RS Lansing - Sgt. Patrick Thomas (517) 882-1797
RS Milwaukee - Sgt. William Knies (715) 735-9363
RS Milwaukee - Sgt. Ryan Sundermeyer (262) 763-2133
RS St. Louis - Sgt. Dale Elbert (314) 258-0170
RS St. Louis - Sgt. Erik Jensen (314) 258-0168
RS Twin Cities - Sgt. Justin Middlemas (701) 223-3019
RS Twin Cities - Sgt. Aaron Swan Jr. (763) 576-9049