Military leaders use ‘honest conversations’ to combat service member suicide

On a sunny spring morning, Air Force cadets gather in a dimly lit auditorium at the University of Texas at El Paso to hear an Army officer of 20 years with 11 combat rounds talk about military suicides.

Retired Lt. Col. J.C. Glick began his discussion, via Zoom, with a brief description of his military experience, mostly in Special Operations.

What he said next stunned many of the students.

“About 18 months after my eleventh combat round—it was the first of four suicide attempts,” he said.

Unlike most people, Glick is comfortable talking about suicide – the main killer of service personnel. And now he’s on a mission to get others to talk about suicide, too. is partner with moth + flamea virtual reality company and a pioneer in immersive learning in an effort to reduce suicides in the military.

retired و. Lieutenant Colonel JC Glick

‘It’s about’ Are you thinking of harming yourself? That’s what everyone says, ‘It’s so hard saying that.’ It’s not. You just have to practice saying it. ‘We have the thing that will help you practice saying it,’ Gleick said.

In the 20 years since 9/11, more military personnel and veterans have died by suicide than by combat. 2021 study By Brown University’s Watson Institute of International Affairs, more than 30,000 active-duty personnel and veterans of the post-9/11 wars were found to have killed themselves, while 7,057 were killed in combat or military exercises.

The US Department of Defense requested an annual report tracking suicides in 2018 in order to “increase transparency and accountability for the Department of Defense’s efforts toward suicide prevention,” according to an executive summary in the latest Report.

The 2021 report is finalized, but the combined quarterly reports provide a look back at the past year. In 2021, there were 328 suicides among personnel serving in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force. The reserve forces lost 190 personnel by suicide, and 116 members of the National Guard committed suicide last year.

have a conversation

The Moth + Flame VR modules train other service members, team leaders and leaders to have conversations with a person contemplating suicide with the goal of ensuring the person gets the help they need. There is also a couples unit. The conversation is voice activated by the user who has to say things out loud and deal with a person in distress.

Fort Bliss soldiers check in before mandatory suicide prevention training begins March 28 at William Beaumont Military Medical Center. (Angela Kucherga/KTEP News)

Virtual reality training can be a tool in the overall effort to prevent suicides. The Air Force is currently testing the units. The students had the opportunity to experience the internship in El Paso after a question-and-answer session at the end of Glick’s talk.

Lt. Col. Dana Bucht, Air Force ROTC Team Leader for New Mexico State University and UTEP, sees value in a virtual reality experience.

“Put your goggles on. There’s a little premise, and you’re put in the scenario of facing a pilot or guardian, you know, someone in the Space Force, who has suicidal thoughts.”

As a squadron leader, she saw the hypothetical scenario materialize in real life.

“Very few times,” she said, “as a friend to her teammates who were really struggling” and with her teammates who “gathered together for an entire month in Afghanistan.”

Bochte also saw others coming forward for help, “either identifying themselves who came to me and said they had a problem, or they were brought in by co-workers and friends.”

Prevention in Fort Bliss

Suicide affects every branch of the military. But the largest, the Army, had the highest number of suicides last year with 176 active duty, 45 reservists, and 101 National Guard members according to the most recent quarter. Report For 2021. There are 480,000 active duty personnel in the army.

Fort Bliss did not disclose the number of suicides among its soldiers “as a policy,” according to a statement in response to a request for data.

According to the statement, “With respect to Fort Bliss service personnel who die by suicide, each incident represents a tragic loss affecting the service member’s family and colleagues as well as the larger Fort Bliss family.”

Air Force ROTC cadets at the University of Texas at El Paso listen to a suicide prevention talk from retired Lt. Col. J.C. Glick. (Angela Kucherga/KTEP News)

At Fort Bliss, suicide prevention is a leadership-level priority.

Major General Sean Burnaby, 1st Expedition Commander, 1st Armored Division, launched Operation Ironclad in February 2021 to “counter harmful behaviors” focusing on three “corrosive factors” including sexual assault, suicide, and extremist behaviors and activities.

There is a pool of resources for 18,193 military personnel at Fort Bliss, including military family life counselors, chaplains assigned to each battalion at squadron level and outpatient behavioral health doctors and programs; and more recently an ‘evidence-based’ group therapy programme.

“We are all collaborating on this very difficult issue,” said Lt. Col. Gordon Lyons, chief of behavioral health care at Fort Bliss.

“That’s the goal of the Army’s Behavioral Health Services — to make you better and stronger, so that we have a stronger military and we are stronger as a nation and a nation,” Lyons said.

Lyons said his struggles as a young man inspired him to enter the field of behavioral health. He describes his role as a “travel guide” rather than a “tourist” to soldiers seeking mental health assistance.

He said some soldiers could be at particular risk due to a combination of factors. Soldiers who had a difficult childhood, Lyons said, currently have problems with intimate partners when they are young, often more impulsively need special attention if they are in crisis.

However, the younger generation of soldiers is also often more willing to talk about mental health, he said.

“I think they are leading the way in terms of societal change of being open and being able to talk about mental, psychological and emotional issues in order to solve our problems and to be stronger as human beings as a result,” he said.

Dispelling myths about who is at risk of suicide, to include those with successful military careers, is also critical.

“Those people who are ‘Hard Chargers,’ as we call them in the military, who are really at their game, and get things done, sometimes, often have high expectations of themselves. It can actually be a risk factor,” Lyons said.

The Fort Bliss Suicide Prevention Program provides training and education to create awareness at all levels. Mandatory training focuses on the ACE Suicide Intervention Model which is “Ask, Take Care, Accompany”.

During a half-hour session at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in March, the trainer emphasized ACE and led a discussion with soldiers about barriers to seeking mental health help including perceived stigma.

“We’re going in the right direction,” the sergeant said. First Class Antoine Riddick, 38, after completing training.

“The more we talk about it, teach ourselves, and learn about it, the more I feel we will move away from the stigma,” he said. “It shows that we are human and get hurt like everyone else, and when we need help, it’s okay to ask for help.”

Life-saving conversations

More and more military leaders these days openly discuss their psychological struggles. Glick is vocal about treatment for anxiety, PTSD, and depression after multiple deployments.

“My first wife held me with a gun in my mouth and she didn’t talk to me about it after that,” he said. “And this is a very good human being, a wonderful woman, certainly a good military wife and a good mother.”

Years after the divorce, he asked her why she didn’t ask about it. He said his ex-wife told him she didn’t want to bother him any more.

“When you have someone who’s a really good person that you feel can’t talk about because they’re not equipped, that’s talking to me. It means she’s not alone.

Teaching people to have those life-saving conversations has become his new mission.

Glick is recovering. He found the help he needed and got married again. He wants those who are going through a crisis to know that things will get better.

“My life is wonderful in every moment,” he said. “I think there is hope.”

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (Spanish: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or Crisis text line By sending HOME to 741741.