US DoD Experiments with VR Suicide Prevention Training at Travis AFB
VR Suicide Prevention Training

US DoD Experiments with VR Suicide Prevention Training at Travis AFB

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Leaders from across 60th Air Mobility Wing stationed at the Travis Air Force Base (Travis AFB) located in Solano County, California took part in a virtual reality (VR) suicide prevention training experiment last month.

The objective of the 30-minute training was to enhance Airmen’s comfort in engaging with others to prevent suicide by creating a virtual world and prompting the participants to interact with an individual who is in emotional distress using a VR headset.

The goal of the test was to evaluate if the participant can convince the distressed person to seek help through a combination of questions. A training coach accompanied the participants to ensure that they can ask the right questions.

Moth+Flame, a virtual reality developer, designed the technology used for the training. The company has previously worked with Netflix, Taylor Swift, Discovery, and more, and has now joined forces with the government and enterprise programs.

“We are excited and highly motivated to be the catalyst for this innovative suicide prevention program,” stated Brig. Gen. Norm West, Air Mobility Command Surgeon General. “The VR scenario is very realistic and this is the type of training we need to save lives in the real world. One life lost to suicide is too many”.

Air Mobility Command (AMC) is the foremost VR project by the Department of Defense (DoD) to employ immersive, conversational training for suicide prevention.

“We believe this training will not only save lives but prepare our Airmen for tough conversations that will build a more resilient force,” said Victor Jones, AMC Suicide Prevention Program Manager.

Master Sgt. Shawn Dougherty, a VR training facilitator, observed that the most common occurrence during the training which essentially is role-playing with fellow trainees, the participants hold back from saying their views out loud.

“The unique part of this VR training is that it’s voice-activated, so you’re required to say things out loud that maybe you’ve never had to say before,” said Dougherty. “Actually saying phrases to Airmen in distress like ‘do you have a gun in the house?’ … or ‘Are you thinking about harming yourself?’”

Lt. Col. Glenn Cameron, 60th Civil Engineering Squadron Commander, who leads one of the largest squadrons on base, stated, “It’s a pretty intense experience, to be honest. You actually see a bona fide actor who doesn’t feel like anything except a real human being talking to you, and he gives you real answers, and there’s an interaction that gives you an opportunity to see when you cheese it up, he calls you out.”

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