'98 Madison Grad Helps Prevent U.S. Military Suicide

'98 Madison Grad Helps Prevent U.S. Military Suicide

Jennifer Prince worked as a naval-contracted dental hygienist when she noticed her patient had other needs.

It was a very bad mental health day for her. I took the time to talk with her and try to help her," Madison High School graduate, 1998, said.

"I wanted to help people work through their pain," she said.

It was that moment of devastation for the sailor that inspired Prince to launch a new career in mental health -- an effort that is likely to save the lives of today's service members.

She took classes in the evenings to get a master's degree and a doctorate in counseling psychology.

Through this training, she was able to do what she intuitively knew how to do in the dental office on that particular day--help those in need.

Princess Prince, who joined the Navy after high school and served 12 years on active duty, is in charge of a suicide prevention program liaison training held at the Parkhurst Army Reserve Center in Chicago.

She married a sailor, Terry Prince, in 1992. He retired in 2017 after 31 years, ending his career as 14th director of the Corps of Navy Hospitals and the Force Master Chief of Navy Medicine.

Prince accompanied her husband on many different journeys as the wife of a sailor. He was uncertain about his future until he accepted the position of director of the Illinois Dept. of Veterans Affairs in April 2021.

The move was great and I love it here, he said. Once we knew we would be moving here, I applied for only this position (suicide prevention program manager with the 416th). I was interviewed and employed."

She designed a suicide prevention program for military members that have helped 10,500 soldiers in 26 states over the past year.

One of only two such units providing tactical and technical engineering support to U.S. forces.

In the theatres it supports, the 416th maintains full-spectrum engineering capabilities under command of a two-star general. Basically, everything has to do with counter mobility, survivability, and general engineering.

The timing of the week-long training course was ideal, given the tragic increase in suicides and suicidal thoughts among military members in recent months.

They train liaisons so they can take the training back to their individual commands. When needed, these trained eyes and ears will aid the soldiers in their own battles.

I set it up based on 'best practices," Prince said. "I'm willing to do whatever it takes (to make it work). I've put all my effort into what I have built and I think anyone can be trained to use the program."

The marriage and family therapist said he's going to teach you how to make a difference and save a life. He's helped hundreds of people with mental health problems, relationships and addictions.

Eight facilitators ran the first session, which had 26 students trained on five modules. At the end of the year, Prince hopes to have at least 110 to 120 liaisons trained.

Their feedback has been that they are learning a lot and gaining new skills, Prince said. "They can return to their commands and teach certain modules of the program and train soldiers in their down-trace units."

Bystander intervention training is one of the modules. Soldiers are trained to be more aware of the world around them, to be more emotionally intelligent, and to take action when things go wrong.

You don't just need those if you served overseas or if you've fought. In addition to this, it is quite common for reservists to interact with their command only a couple of times per month and remain isolated in many other ways.

She said, "A lot of our soldiers aren't even deployed yet, and they're still suffering. The most common soldiers to have suicidal thoughts are junior enlisted, single, male, and white men. They're isolated and they have guns."

We've found younger people don't have a lot of coping skills and don't have a lot of resiliency. They don't have a strong support network and feel like they don't fit in."

As a nation, we have not made any progress on this issue and it continues to pose a financial crisis. We believe we are becoming more effective, but we are not. We need to do better," Prince said.

A soldier who went through the first training session and returned to his unit offered a good report to Prince.

I was informed by him that he has already applied what we taught him. He intervened with a suicide victim and saved his life and helped get him into a hospital.

"That fills my heart with joy."