ASIST Incorporated into CFAO Chief Initiation for the First Time
By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class David R. Krigbaum
Though the chief petty officer (CPO) initiation process is one steeped in tradition, it is also evolving so the Navy’s future chiefs are prepared to meet the fleet’s needs and challenges. At Commander, Fleet Activities Okinawa (CFAO) chief selects attended the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) course as part of their initiation Dec. 3-4, 2020.
This is the first time the course has been incorporated into the initiation process at CFAO.
Using a mix of lectures, group activities, and roleplaying, the two-day class teaches how to communicate with individuals contemplating suicide. According to Religious Programs Specialist 3rd Class Mitch Westendorp, CFAO ASIST assistant coordinator, it dives to a much deeper level of training than the average navy suicide awareness training course; the workshop teaches how to apply mental first aid to someone, to tend to wounds that are invisible and difficult to treat, until you can get the affected person to professional care.
“I think it's imperative that people attend ASIST, because our current greatest threat to our military personnel and their families is suicide,” said Westendorp. “This workshop doesn't just benefit the people you interact with, but it can be beneficial to you as well. Personally, this workshop gave me a much better grasp on what to say to someone that is potentially suicidal, and the actions to take after assessing the health of that individual. I have used these skills more than once since I attended an ASIST workshop, and may have been the difference between life and death of these individuals.”
The CPO initiation process is a six-week course in which Sailors selected for promotion to chief petty officer are prepared for the rigors of their appointment. According to CFAO Commander Master Chief Michael Fluent, ASIST became part of CFAO’s initiation to keep the chief selects knowledgeable and able to lead by example in the conversation on mental health.
“We’re doing a really good job at boot camp at adopting toughness and bringing the mental health conversation, and I want to apply that to leadership at all levels,” said Fluent. “So our new Sailors coming in are potentially more emotionally intelligent than most of our senior leaders because those tools were not put in our box when we came in the Navy and rose through the leadership ranks. I want our chief petty officers to have those tools in their box but I also want all of our Sailors to see that it really is important to lead in action and not just words.”
He believes this may be the first time that the ASIST program, that though used Navy-wide, has been incorporated into a command-level chief initiation. Fluent brought the program to CFAO in 2019. Currently CFAO holds these courses monthly and it is open to all personnel. Those interested in attending can contact Westendorp or Master-at-Arms 1st Class George Perry, CFAO ASIST coordinator.
CFAO’s chief selects are scheduled to be pinned in mid-January 2021.