Chaplains share personal experience, learn about suicide prevention

Photos and Story by Spc. Lisa A. Cope
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — A suicide prevention class for all Army and Air Force Unit Ministry Teams on Joint Base Balad, Iraq, was held on Oct. 2, at the Provider Chapel Annex here.

The training and open-forum discussion lasted from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., led by Maj. Saul E. Cardona, the family-life chaplain for the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and an Añasco, Puerto Rico, native.

“The main goal for today’s training was to provide advanced knowledge to the chaplains and chaplain assistants on the subject of suicide, and how that knowledge that we all carry can be used to help other Soldiers in our command,” said Cardona.

Cardona said he spent roughly two weeks reading about, preparing for and writing the information-based—as opposed to intervention-based—training.

Cardona spoke about the perception of suicide and how it has changed throughout history.

He said he has experience with suicide both personally, with the loss of a family member, and professionally. While stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., with the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division roughly 10 years ago, Cardona presented suicide prevention training with the key message of “take action.” Roughly a month later, a Soldier in the unit took 114 pills in an attempt to commit suicide, said Cardona.

When two service members tried to escort the Soldier to the hospital, he refused to go, said Cardona.

“The Soldier put a headlock on the Soldier who took the pills, the other grabbed him by his legs and threw him into the back of the car,” he said.

They escorted the Soldier who took the pills to the hospital, where his stomach was pumped, said Cardona.

“Five pills would have killed him, he took 114,” he said. “He was saved because that Soldier wrestled him to the ground and drove him to the hospital.”

The training allowed chaplains to share their personal stories and experiences and learn from each other, said Master Sgt. Michael Bair, the command chaplain’s noncommissioned officer in charge with the 13th SC(E) and a San Diego native.

“The most helpful part of the training for me was listening to the different perspectives of the chaplains and their faith backgrounds, and some of the assistants; how even though they have their own faith backgrounds, they are able to disconnect from that and look for (what) Soldiers need,” he said.

Bair said he attended the training to better understand the motivation behind a Soldier committing suicide.

“It is important for chaplains and assistants, that we have a deeper understanding of suicide and some of the root causes,” he said.

Soldiers experiencing personal difficulties sometimes find it easier to talk to a chaplain assistant because they feel more comfortable with enlisted personnel, said Bair.

Bair said, “I believe, personally, that suicide is never the answer, that every person has a reason to live, and that through our help, and Soldiers’ help, and leadership’s help, maybe we can find their reason to live.”

 

news photo
Maj. Saul E. Cardona, family-life chaplain with the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and an Anasco, Puerto Rico, native, speaks to chaplains and chaplain assistants during his suicide prevention class Oct. 2, at the Provider Chapel Annex on Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lisa A. Cope)

news photo
Maj. Saul E. Cardona, family-life chaplain for the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and an Anasco, Puerto Rico, native, speaks to the chaplains and chaplain assistants on Joint Base Balad, Iraq, during his suicide prevention class Oct. 2 at the Provider Chapel Annex.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lisa A. Cope)