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Grissom tests VR suicide prevention technology

Chief Master Sgt. Nathan Parks, 434th Air Refueling Wing command chief, took part in the suicide prevention virtual reality training demo on April 30, 2021. The 30-minute training is aimed to familiarize Airmen with suicide prevention skills. The training involves putting on a virtual reality headset and entering a scenario where they interact with an Airman in distress. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jonathan Stefanko)

Chief Master Sgt. Nathan Parks, 434th Air Refueling Wing command chief, took part in the suicide prevention virtual reality training demo on April 30, 2021. The 30-minute training is aimed to familiarize Airmen with suicide prevention skills. The training involves putting on a virtual reality headset and entering a scenario where they interact with an Airman in distress. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jonathan Stefanko)

GRISSOM AIR RESERVE BASE, Ind. -- Airmen from across the 434th Air Refueling Wing participated in a suicide prevention virtual reality training demonstration from April 30 to May 2.

The training is a pilot program currently used within the Air Mobility Command to move beyond typical computer-based training. However, Grissom received a demo version to test the technologies’ capability with teaching Airmen how to talk to someone who might be emotionally distressed. Grissom is also the first Air Force Reserve Command unit to receive a demo version to test the new training.

"This [VR] training is completely different than the in-class instruction people are familiar with," said Christy Shives, 434th ARW violence prevention integrator. "Teaching suicide prevention techniques in a classroom setting is important, but it can only go so far in ensuring our Airmen are prepared for these tough situations. The simulated scenarios these VR headsets provide offer Airmen an opportunity to talk with someone displaying suicidal tendencies, learn how to navigate a difficult conversation and resolve the situation."

With a rise in suicides across the service, the Air Force Installation Contracting Center helped fast-track the VR suicide prevention training through a contract awarded to a company specializing in VR training.

The contract covers 50 headsets and four different training scenarios, though only one module, the distressed Airman scenario, is currently being tested. Grissom received a demo version to evaluate the effectiveness of the training, and
Shives believes they are a game-changer for suicide prevention.

"While we will continue to have the annual requirements and traditional suicide prevention training, these headsets will offer students a great opportunity to put the skills taught in the class in practice," Shives said. "With the rate of suicides in the force, we need to do anything and everything we can to provide to educate and prepare our Airmen so they can identify and help someone in need."

The dialogue-based training provides users an opportunity to experience what conversing with someone in distress is like. The actor in the simulation will also react differently depending on what the Airman says.

"The conversation feels real," Shives said. "I felt the stress, unease, and a heightened sense of 'am I going to make the right choice.' While it's just a simulation, you will feel more emotion about what's going on, and it may be a lot for some people.
However, this training will help us experience how a conversation like this could play out so we can learn and prepare in case of a real-world."

Initial feedback at Travis and Scott Air Force Base showed that 98 percent of their leaders would recommend the training and 93 percent said it would be more effective than traditional training.

A video of what the simulation looks like and more information on the training can also be found on the Air Force’s official website, https://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2510658/dod-tests-vr-suicide-prevention-training-at-scott-travis-afbs/.

The 434th ARW is the largest KC-135R Stratotanker unit in the Air Force Reserve Command. The Citizen Airmen from the Hoosier Wing routinely deploy around the world in support of the Air Force mission.

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Public Affairs Staff

Material contained on the Official Grissom Air Reserve Base Internet Web Site is written and produced by members of the 434th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs Office. The award-winning staff includes:



Douglas Hays
Chief, public affairs

Maj. Neil Samson
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Tech. Sgt. Josh Weaver
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Tech. Sgt. Rachel Barton
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Tech. Sgt. Jami Lancette
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Tech. Sgt. Courtney Dotson-Essett
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Staff Sgt. Chris Massey
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Staff Sgt. Michael Hunsaker
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Staff Sgt. Alexa Culbert
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Senior Airman Jonathan Stefanko
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Senior Airman Jeremy Blocker
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