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I’m a believer: One chaplain’s testimony that ASIST works

Assistant fire chief stands in front of fire truck

(Courtesy Photo)

Airman poses in front of U.S. flag

(Courtesy Photo)

The idea of talking to someone who is suicidal can seem daunting for many people, to include chaplains. Not having the right words to say or not knowing what to do can feel overwhelming. Within the Basic Chaplain Course (BCC) at the Air Force Chaplain Corps College (AFCCC), chaplains receive Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), which enables participants to practice suicide prevention interventions in small-group settings. 

Chaplain (1st Lt.) Paul Ringheiser is a traditional reservist assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. As a civilian, he is an Assistant Fire Chief at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. Upon beginning the ASIST course during BCC, he said initially he felt the training appeared too “text-book” and it seemed unlikely that some of the scenarios would actually occur.

“That was until a real-life situation happened,” Ringheiser said. “It played out almost word-for-word what we practiced during the training.”

The skills he gained during the BCC ASIST course, just one month prior, helped him to get an individual expressing thoughts of suicide to safety.

Tech. Sgt. Aubery Daniels, NCOIC of Operations Support, and Staff Sgt. Dewayne Walker, NCOIC of Course Management, were two instructors who taught ASIST while Chaplain Ringheiser attended BCC. They have led a total of 10 courses, equipping close to 250 chaplains with tools to address suicide. Chaplain Ringheiser’s immediate usage of ASIST continues to validate the importance of teaching these workshops. 

For Tech Sgt. Daniels, ASIST’s emphasis on caring for the person in need through intentional listening has been pivotal for him. 

“The training has taught me to be patient and listen to the at-risk person’s story,” Daniels said. “This allows the caregiver to understand how the at-risk person arrived at the dark place in their life.”

ASIST has also helped Staff Sgt. Walker in many ways; fostering personal connection, prompting thought provoking conversations and practicing role playing in a safe environment.

As for Ringheiser, he will be forever grateful to this course. Although he was a bit skeptical at first, he’s now a firm believer in its impact.

“My intention is to promote that this is relevant training,” Ringheiser said. “It can do something amazing if you let it.”

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