US Air Force Experiments With VR Suicide Prevention Training

Airmen and their spouses are taught how to comfort distressed individuals in a virtual environment.

Over the past four years, we’ve seen a noticeable increase in immersive technologies being used for combat and training purposes by military organizations around the world, such as military-grade HoloLens headsets or AR goggles designed for use by military dogs.

The US Air Force has been no exception. Last year VRgineers revealed that its professional-grade headset was being used by several airbases as part of its pilot training program.

Image Credit: U.S. Air Force video by Nicholas Pilch

This week the United States Department of Defense (DoD) disclosed yet another VR training program currently in use by the US Air Force. Rather than focusing on combat or vehicle operation, however, this latest next-gen training program focuses on providing airmen as well as their respective spouses with the skills and knowledge necessary to comfort distressed individuals in an effort to curb the growing rate of military suicides.

As pointed out by FedScoop, data recently obtained by the DoD indicates that suicides have risen from 18.5 per 100,000 in 2018 to 25.1 per 100,000 in 2019.

Developed by veteran VR/AR studio Moth + Flame, the 30-minute training scenario tasks participants with convincing a fellow airman who is exhibiting emotional distress to seek professional help by asking them a series of specific questions. Those struggling to select the correct responses will receive assistance by a dedicated training coach, allowing them to better understand what to ask, how to respond, and why.

Image Credit: U.S. Air Force video by Nicholas Pilch

“We are excited and highly motivated to be the catalyst for this innovative suicide prevention program,” said Brig. Gen. Norman 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.”

Higher-ranking members, such as base leadership, squadron commanders, superintendents, and first sergeants at the Scott and Travis Air Force bases were the first to receive this specialized form of VR training.

“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,” added Master Sgt. Shawn Dougherty, VR facilitator Travis Air Force Base, one of the locations utilizing VR suicide prevention training. “(You’ll need to actually say) phrases to Airmen in distress like ‘Do you have a gun in the house?’ … or ‘Are you thinking about harming yourself?’”

“This module is an Airman-to-Airman scenario. The training gives you an opportunity to be face-to-face with another Airman, in an Airman’s perspective with someone that’s in distress. You are trying to talk them down, resolve the situation, figure out what is going on with him and find out the best scenario to get him to safety.”

Moving forward, Moth + Flame is expected to develop additional modules for the VR training program, further expanding the Air Force’s efforts towards suicide prevention.

For more information on the new initiative visit here.

Feature Image Credit: U.S. Air Force video by Nicholas Pilch

About the Scout

Former Writer (Kyle Melnick)

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