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Virtual reality brings new dimension to suicide prevention training

  • Published
  • By Karen Petitt
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. – Leaders from across the 375th Air Mobility Wing stepped into a virtual reality-inspired test phase Jan. 12 for a new training effort targeted to help Airmen feel more comfortable about engaging with others to prevent suicide.

Senior leaders were asked to put on a virtual reality headset for a 30 minute interactive scenario with both a coach, who provided upfront training, and then an Airman who was in obvious distress. They were prompted to ask a variety of questions, whereupon the responses would vary until the member was successfully assisted.

“This experience was definitely more powerful than just sitting through a boring Powerpoint briefing,” said Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Bekoff, 375th Mission Support Group. “I think the way the training is presented will resonate with our younger Airmen who are used to interacting in virtual worlds like this.”

He said that on a personal level, he felt he had more confidence after the training to stick to the “ACE” response method of “Ask, Care, and Escort,” but, that no matter what, any interaction with those who feel suicidal will be a hard situation.

This is one reason why the Air Force is going to great lengths to find ways to address the issue with updated and innovative ways help Airmen recognize the signs and assist them in addressing a variety of situations.  The scenario being tested right now involves an “Airman to Airman” experience, and future scenarios will involve training targeted with a first sergeant, a commander, and a spouse as well.

Scott AFB, along with Travis AFB, California, were selected as the “pilot wings” for the Air Force’s “Virtual Reality Suicide Prevention Experience.”  The company Moth+Flame was contracted to develop this immersive VR training experience.  Training will be adjusted based on feedback during this test phase with possible final rollout later this year.

Leading point on this training effort for the wing is Kirt Davis, the Violence Prevention Integrator who also oversees the wing’s suicide prevention programs. Assisting him with the test phase logistics is Tech. Sgt. Alisha Curtis, 375th Command Post. They both took the training and agreed that it’s a step in the right direction to get more people comfortable with reaching out to each other.

Davis said, “I think what’s really beneficial in this training is that it teaches you how to have the conversation.  While there’s no right answer for everything, it does show you how to avoid judgmental language and observe the surroundings while ensuring the person remains safe until additional help can be secured.”

He said that once the program is assessed and approved for additional implementation, there will need to be support from all the units to bring the technology to their teams.  Because this specific Airman to Airman scenario is receiving  positive feedback, commanders are also asking for more scenarios, and asking if there is a way to evaluate if they “did it right.”

Mike Arth of Moth+Flame described how the application can provide data for leadership to better understand how Airmen are performing and where training gaps may exist that can be closed with alterations to the curriculum or additional exposure to key concepts.  Moth+Flame’s goal is that a better understanding of where Airmen are struggling to employ ACE will lead to improvements that help Airmen learn faster and retain more of the material for longer. 

Davis added, “Anything we can do to enhance not only our training, but our ability to respond in these situations is worth trying. We still have an alarming number of people taking their life, and if we’re all prepared to engage when the time comes, then we can help those struggling to know that we care, we need them on our team and that there is hope for the future.”