A suicide-prevention training program implemented last year has guardsmen up and down the chain of command lauding its ability to improve mental health and overall wellness.
The Nevada National Guard debuted Purple Resolve with the use of state-obligation enabled special funding opportunities. Now, leaders are looking for ways to expand the program beyond the National Guard as other states adopt the program.
“We found something that really resonated with the force that was a better anchor to give them coping mechanisms,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Ondra Berry, Nevada’s adjutant general.
Purple Resolve was born out of tragedy. Just days after Berry took his position in September 2019, the Nevada National Guard lost Army Staff Sgt. Chase Rauchle to suicide, the state’s sixth such loss in four years.
His parents, Craig and Julie, immediately founded the Chase Rauchle Memorial Fund at a community foundation; then Chase Rauchle PTSD Now!, with the familiar acronym instead standing for “Prevent & Treat Stress & Depression.”
Chase had a hard time finding the right treatment; he also was concerned that if he admitted he was having difficulties, it would sideline his career in the National Guard, Craig said. Julie and Craig started looking into the problem, and discovered that the Nevada National Guard had just three directors of behavioral health for their 4,500-strong force.
“You don’t have to be a mathematician to know that’s woefully inadequate,” Craig said.
They also discovered that due to the Guard’s unique command structure, with the governor at the top of the chain, there were state programs, like the Department of Veterans Services, that could accept money from a nonprofit, instead of having to work within the Department of Defense’s bureaucracy.
In April 2021, PTSD Now! presented $200,000 to Nevada’s DVS to fund two therapists. The setting for counseling was important to the Rauchles, Craig said, because they understood service members might not want to draw attention to themselves by sitting in a civilian therapist’s waiting room in uniform.
But that didn’t seem like enough. The Rauchles wanted to help service members get ahead of mental health crises. The search led them to Blue Courage, a resiliency training program for law enforcement officers. Blue Courage’s team had instructors who had served in the military, which helped them adapt it and create Purple Resolve.
The first pilot sessions took place in June 2021, followed by train-the-trainer sessions, with the goal of it becoming contained within the Nevada National Guard. Attendees receive a manual, to remind them of the lessons, and a mirror to prompt self-reflection, which Berry said he sees soldiers and airmen carrying around to stay anchored to the training.
Berry said Purple Resolve breaks tradition, taking service members off automatic and challenging them to consider whether they’re living their best life.
“I think the question that you always have to answer when you’re creating an initiative or development opportunity is one, are you really creating well-being for your people? Are you really creating something that’s going to take care of them overall – mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually? And the second thing is, are you really helping them develop skills and putting things in their toolbox that will help them to reach their full potential and also take care of themselves and their families and their coworkers?”
The program’s “Pattern Interrupt” concept, in which a person would take 60 seconds for deep breathing to reset a situation, is a favorite takeaway of Berry and Army Spc. Luis Moran, who said it’s helped keep difficult conversations with his leadership from going awry. Purple Resolve training also has a courage component, which Moran said helped him see he can ask for things like a chance to take a breath.
Moran also credits the training with keeping him centered. He pivots between his main MOS, truck driving, and human resources assignments, while pursuing a degree in business accounting and working a part-time civilian security job. He’s taken other personal development courses, some recommended to him after a friend and several relatives passed away in two years, but he returns to the lessons from Purple Resolve to remind himself to stay focused and keep a healthy mindset.
The Nevada National Guard makes Purple Resolve available to its troops, civilian contractors and military family members. As of late May, 300 attendees had completed the two-day training; they also offer a condensed version to all incoming soldiers and airmen. Berry said the metrics available so far indicate it’s having the intended effect. Arizona’s National Guard is implementing the program, and there are plans to present it to states in the Northeast.
“Three quarters of our force I don’t see on a regular basis, so this is something they can carry with them, not just in their military life, not just in their civilian life, not just in their family life, but in their personal life,” Berry said.
Those considering starting their own Purple Resolve program can find more information on the Blue Courage website.