Nine people from Hill AFB who attended one of my Resiliency Training Program Training of Trainers shared details of the innovative program there that uses resiliency strategies to reduce suicide rates, and said these rates have declined more than 50% since the program was implemented just a few years ago.
The program, called the Wingman Advocate program, is unique in the military though its success is prompting consideration of expansion to other bases:
- It trains soldiers and civilians on the base with “natural helping inclinations” to be a compassionate, listening ear; an advocate for accessing resources; and a “friend in need”.
- These “natural helpers” are not housed in some remote office: THEY ARE IMBEDDED IN DIFFERENT DEPARTMENTS ON THE BASE.
- Their mission is to keep a lookout for a peer that might be struggling, and to be available to anyone who needs the resiliency‑building factor of a “caring and supportive” friend and advocate.
- Throughout the base, those in authority are encouraged to refer someone in emotional need to “the Wingman Advocate.” This approach greatly reduces the still‑prevalent stigma for seeking help that exists in military culture.
“Overwhelmingly, Wingman Advocates (are) chosen for their genuineness and authenticity,” said Rita Roybal, Wingman Advocate director. She added that the positive outcomes of the program are largely the result of their “emotional intelligence” and the advocates’ “willingness to make a difference in the lives of those they touch.”
I share Rita’s perspective after interacting for two days with these amazing human beings, and hearing their stories:
They shared one example of a colleague who was great at this job, but was so overweight he was about to lose it. So, two of the Wingman Advocates met him at 6 a.m. every day for several weeks to help him start an exercise program that eventually resulted in a big weight loss.
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