Close to 700 compassionate Canadian Army soldiers have volunteered their services to keep a watchful eye out and guide their comrades in trouble to appropriate resources. These volunteers have proudly taken up the mantle to be part of the Canadian Army Sentinels Program.
“The program’s values lie in the human contact that remains the best way to encourage members to seek out the tools they need to face the difficult situation that may arise in their lives,” said CA Command Chaplain, LCol. Guy Bélisle.
The Sentinels Program consists of volunteer non-professionals whose role is to keep an eye out within their units to support and assist those in any kind of distress. Their job consists of directing them to the right resources and ensures that individuals, if needed, are immediately transferred to the Chain of Command or caregivers like a chaplain, social worker or doctor.
“One of the main objectives of the program is to ensure, on the ground, an informal presence able to detect, support, and refer,” added Bélisle.
Sentinels are recruited from all ranks across the Canadian Army and tend to have strong people skills, the skills to quickly establish relationships with others and demonstrate compassion for others.
Those soldiers who decide to volunteer for the program first undergo a few days of basic training, delivered by a chaplain. The basic training consists of providing the skills and knowledge to interact with colleagues and communication and intervention tools. The Sentinels continue to undergo ongoing training on specific workshops including suicide prevention and alcoholism.
The program started in 2007 by a group of chaplains and social workers at the 2nd Canadian Division in Valcartier as a proactive measure to ensure soldiers needing assistance were directed to the proper resources and people.
“They realized that, and it’s still true today, they realized, at that time, that members are reluctant to ask for help, and although we have plenty of available resources on the base, the fact is that members who are suffering are reluctant to ask for them and too often do not seek the help they need,” commented Bélisle.
The success of the program in Valcartier led to the Sentinel Program’s exportation to Afghanistan in 2010 in an operational context.
“Some of the Sentinels came back and told us, the group of chaplains there, ‘padre I think I saved the life of my friend.’ For me I believe in the program, no doubt in my mind, I’ve seen the results,” stated Bélisle.
In December 2015, an official order was laid out by Commander of the Canadian Army, LGen. Marquis Hainse, to make the Sentinels Program a Canada Army-wide initiative.
The Chaplain believes that with time more soldiers will come forward to volunteer and build on the benefits of the program.
“As a chaplain, one of our main goals is to take care of our people. I think this tool, this program, will help to take care more of our members who are going through difficult times,” said Bélisle.