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Several hundred participate in third annual Lifeline 5k run/walk at Fort Knox

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By ERIC PILGRIM

A cool overcast morning embraced several hundred runners Friday as they gathered into loose formations in the parking lot next to Natcher Physical Fitness Center. Large lights shone down on them as a 1980s rock-n-roll song blasted from the sound system.

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Armed with a microphone, Angela Williams, director of the Fort Knox Suicide Prevention Pro-gram, welcomed Soldiers, family members and civilians to the third annual Lifeline 5k Run/Walk. She encouraged them get involved in reducing the number of suicides occurring in the military after they got involved in the run. She then passed the mic to Maj. Gen. John Evans Jr., the U.S. Army Cadet Command and post commanding general.

Under a cover of darkness, Evans shed light on some disturbing statistics surrounding suicide within military circles, and asked runners to look for ways to help battle buddies who are hurting.

“Thanks for being here this morning,” Evans said. “It’s important. It’s important to have you here, and we appreciate you being out here.”

Williams said she changed the name of the run to Lifeline to coincide with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

According to the website at suicidepreventionlifeline.org, Lifeline is “a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week … committed to improving crisis services and advancing suicide prevention by empowering individuals, advancing professional best practices, and building awareness.”

The site provides several resources anybody can use to help those out who are hurting and in need of encouragement.

“A lifeline is that resource that someone in a crisis reaches out for. They are reaching out for someone to give them that lifeline, that rope, that information, that resource,” said Williams. “I added Lifeline to the Suicide Prevention Pro- gram because many people who are dealing with suicidal thoughts, suicidal, or at risk of suicide are afraid to ask for help.

“Suicide is a very stigmatized and taboo topic, and we have people who are in a crisis,” she continued. “We think they have problems, but they turn their problems into a crisis. If they can’t handle that crisis, unfortunately they make the decision to end their life.”

Since taking over the program last year, Williams has worked to bridge the divide between society’s perceptions and people’s realities.

Williams said her goal at the program, whether through fun runs or serious encouragement, is to create a suicide-safe community at Fort Knox.

“When someone is in a crisis, a lot of times they don’t want to die; they just need someone to listen to them; to genuinely care,” Williams said. “Often, they don’t know how to look for help or ask for it because again, they’re afraid to be stigmatized. It’s that taboo.”

Williams said sometimes the hard-charging military mindset doesn’t encourage Soldiers to ask for help.

“The first concept is, ‘Mission first! Mission first! Suck it up and move on!’” said Williams. “But if I’m hurting, if I’m in a crisis, how can I move on and suck it up? This is what’s going on.”

The prevailing stigma is Williams’ driving force behind the annual run. This year, she added several supporting personnel to provide runners with information and en- couragement in a casual fun environment. Organ- izations that participated included Behavioral Health at Ireland Army Health Clinic, R2 Per-formance Center, Army Community Service and Lincoln Trail Behavioral Health.

As individual runners, then units, and lastly walkers came across the finish line, they were greeted with a bag of goodies, fruit and a pat or two on the back — never far from the reason for being there.

“Suicide is a medical concern. When people
die from suicide, they have different reasons for ending their life,” Williams said. “Maybe they think suicide will fix their problems, but you cannot fix your problems with suicide. It’s permanent.” n