Friday, 15 April 2011

When I came into work this morning I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I had been tasked to make dozens of Easter goodie bags for the troops from donations that we received. This cheery and somewhat mindless activity was definitely needed after the night we had last night at the Red Cross.

Many people do not know this, but in addition to passing Red Cross messages on behalf of families amidst an emergency, the Red Cross actually acts somewhat like a 911 emergency call to prevent suicides. Technically we refer to these “messages” as SPAs - Suicide Prevention Action. Essentially, if a deployed servicemember is communicating with family back home and expressing suicidal ideations, the family can call the Red Cross and initiate a chain of events to intervene and protect the servicemember. Our Red Cross station in Bagram will get a direct phone call from a station in the States briefly explaining the situation as well as the soldier’s personal information so that we can accurately identify both the military command and the servicemember. Once the correct command is located, we call and ask to speak to the highest ranking officer in the unit, whereby we explain the situation and ask that command locate and secure the servicemember, hopefully before any harm comes to pass.

Last night was just such a night here at the Red Cross, although circumstances were made even more precarious due to the fact that the entire computerized message system was inoperative at many stations around the world, including all the deployed stations. We had not had access to the system for two hours when we got a call from National Headquarters advising they had a SPA for us. Fortunately I was still in the office after my shift because my co-worker took the phone call from National and stayed on the phone with them to receive the information while I called the unit and spoke to the only night solider in the office who had never handled a suicide prevention action before. I talked him through what he needed to do while National was relaying the information to Kami who was relaying it to me while I was relaying it to the command all in an effort to ensure that this servicemember was located, secured and given help.

The worst part about SPAs however is the waiting…after we’d passed the information to command they act immediately on their end to get in contact with the servicemember’s actual unit and then to the servicemember himself. This leaves us at the Red Cross office on edge waiting for a call back to hear if we made it in time. I waited another two hours at the office to hear back from command, but by 3am they still could not give us any information and I was exhausted.

Although suicide prevention action is nowhere near as common as the regular emergency message we pass, every now and again a SPA comes through that jolts you into a actual life or death situation where your actions maybe save someone's life and provide them the help they need.

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