Snowmachining for suicide prevention
Alaska Wildlife Troopers have once again hit the trail, this time snowmachining more than 1,000 miles across Alaska in less than a week in an effort to prevent suicides. This year, Alaska Wildlife Troopers Darrell Hildebrand, Thomas Akelkok, and Jon Simeon planned an ambitious journey to reach adults and school children in eight villages in rural Alaska. Other troopers joined the expedition for sections of the trek as they wound their way from Manley Hot Springs to Nome and back. The trip launched on March 16 and troopers are expected to reach Nome on March 21. Ruby was the first school on the visit followed by schools in Unalakleet, Shaktoolik, Koyuk, Elim, Golovin, White Mountain, and Nome.
Hildebrand, Simeon, and Akelkok are armed with personal stories of how suicide touched their lives. Hildebrand’s father committed suicide when he was 4-years old while Simeon’s friend took his life while he was a young man living in Aniak. The goal is to make sure people know to reach out to someone and talk about their problems – whether it’s a friend, a parent, grandparent, teacher or even troopers. It’s a message that the wildlife troopers have carried with them during outreach trips for the past four years – many of them in conjunction with the Iron Dog Suicide Prevention Campaigns.
Two years ago, the three troopers started braving subzero temperatures and blowing winds to snowmachine to the different communities in rural Alaska to tell school children and community members there is always hope in the midst of despair and that suicide is preventable.
All three grew up in rural Alaska – Hildebrand in Nulato, Simeon in Aniak, and Akelkok in Ekwok – where suicide is an epidemic. The rate in Alaska is almost twice that of the rest of the nation, but according to the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council, Alaska Native males between the ages of 15-24 have the highest rate with an average of 141.6 suicides per 100,000.
As representatives of not only law enforcement, but also Alaska Native men, the they use their personal stories as proof that despite all that may go wrong in life, there’s still a way to succeed.