Between February 17 and 19, base leadership, squadron commanders, superintendents, and first sergeants from across the 60th Air Mobility Wing at Travis Air Force Base took part in a groundbreaking 30-minute virtual reality suicide prevention training.
Aimed to teach Airmen how to convince a distressed peer to get help, the training is the first project of its kind in the Department of Defense, utilizing immersive, conversational simulation to help prevent suicides, whose numbers have spiked during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The VR scenario is very realistic, and this is the type of training we need to save lives in the real world. One life lost to suicide is too many,” commented Brig. Gen. Norman West, Air Mobility Command surgeon general. “We are excited and highly motivated to be the catalyst for this innovative suicide prevention program.”
The 30-minute training begins with a brief discussion of the topic of resiliency and difficult conversations about suicide. Airmen are then reminded by Tony Dungy, former head coach of Super Bowl champions and a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee of the Air Force’s A-C-E protocol to ask, care, and escort someone in distress.
After the introduction, the actual simulation begins, transporting the headset wearer inside the home of a distressed airman called Mike. From there, each participant must have a conversation with Mike, trying to choose the answers that will convince him to get help.
“The unique part of this VR training is that it’s voice-activated, so you’re required to say things out loud that maybe you’ve never had to say before,” said Master Sgt. Shawn Dougherty, a VR training facilitator at Travis Air Force Base.
The initial feedback from airmen who have participated in the training program was positive, with some describing it as honest and emotional.