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Course teaches Airmen to deal with despondence

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Suicide.

The word brings about different emotions for different people: sadness, fear and anxiety. These mixed emotions can sometimes make it difficult for people to approach others on the subject, even when the other person may be at risk.

That is where the safeTALK course comes in. Taught by the 30th Space Wing chaplain's office, safeTALK is in-depth suicide awareness training for the layman.

"This class dispels myths and deals with a person's capability to recognize nonverbals, hints and things that people say," said Chaplain (Capt.) Matthew Clouse, who works with the 30th SW. "It rests on the foundation that being the aware person does not mean that you have to be the person that knows how to intervene. You just know how to put the person in a pause or safe mode so that you can get that trained intervention for them. It's really being the Wingman."

In order to better invoke that Wingman spirit, the 15-30 person class is hands-on, involving group discussions more than lectures. All three instructors, the two from the chapel and an interactive DVD trainer, encourage the class to step outside their comfort zone to discuss and recognize the signs of suicidal thoughts.

"We talk about statistics, where cues are missed and where you fit in," Chaplain Clouse said. "We try to normalize talking about suicide. We want you to care more about someone else's life than comfort."

SafeTALK is one of many programs throughout the Air Force that show this attitude of caring, including the Warfighter Resiliency Program and Frontline Supervisors Training. The class does not take the place of these programs, and supervisors must still take the "frontline" training. SafeTALK, however, is not just for supervisors; it is for anyone who wants to be better able to recognize those people who need help and get them that assistance.

"We want to reach the everyday, regular person," Chaplain Clouse said. "We're looking for the Wingman, the guy next to you. That's probably the most effective because we see each other every day."

The class itself has been effective in challenging and preparing people to help others. In fact, one student said, "SafeTALK was very beneficial to me, and I feel that I can better assist our fellow comrades in these very challenging times we are facing as a nation."

To come away from the class with a good experience like this, it is important for people to come with an open mind and a desire to help others.

"We are one big Air Force family," Chaplain Clouse said. "Get ready to take care of that family."

For more information on safeTALK or other chapel courses, call 606-5773.