September 18, 2012
By J.D. Leipold
In nine days the Army will conduct a suicide prevention stand down worldwide to focus on promoting good health, teammate involvement, risk reduction and resilience training.
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III ordered the Sept. 27 stand down following the release of July suicide figures, which confirmed two suicides and another 36 potential suicides presently under investigation. To date, 120 active-duty Soldiers are confirmed to have taken their lives while another 67 deaths are under investigation.
“Suicide is the toughest enemy I have faced in my 37 years in the Army,” he said, adding that he believes it preventable through solutions aimed at helping individuals build resiliency to help strengthen their life-coping skills. Austin said the Army must continue to address the stigma associated with asking for help.
“Ultimately, we want the mindset across our force and society at large to be that behavioral health is a routine part of what we do and who we are as we strive to maintain our own physical and mental wellness,” Austin said.
The last suicide prevention stand down the Army had was in 2009 and followed the train-the-trainer concept and how to recognize potential suicides, but this year’s program brings a more holistic approach to beating the epidemic, said Walter O. Morales, chief of the Army Suicide Prevention Program. Morales said Army suicides have more than doubled since 2004.
“I think the big difference between 2009 and now is this time we’ve focused all across the Army, even here at the Pentagon we’re going to stand down with the Army chief of staff leading a personal session by talking with the general officers and senior executives,” said Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, Army G-1.
“This is absolutely a battle that we have to engage in every single day,” Bromberg added. “I’m asking all Soldiers this entire month and moving forward to just to think about that as military members, family members, teammates, civilians, neighbors and friends to look out for each other in our community.”
“We’re looking at health promotion — establishment of good eating and sleeping habits, different ways of exercising and that leadership must be involved and accountable, so we’ll be looking at many resources and not just those resources specifically for suicide prevention,” said Morales. “Our goal is to let Soldiers, leaders, family members and Army civilians know we have resources to help them remain risk-free.”
Several of those resources include Army Strong Bonds, a program led by the Chaplain Corps which seeks to build resiliency by offering individual Soldiers and families relationship education and skills training, explained Col. George A. Glaze, chief of the Health Promotion Risk Reduction Division of G-1.
“We have Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness which is about building resiliency and learning coping life skills that you need to handle with some of the challenges we have,” Glaze added. “We have the Army substance abuse program that gets after the dependencies on alcohol and drug abuse and we have for those Soldiers who are geographically dispersed the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK.”
Morales said programs like ACE — Ask, Care, Escort — teaches skills on how to intervene, and what questions to ask to get Soldiers the help they need. Key he says is to have the courage to intervene by stepping in with alternative solutions.
“There can be no bystanders in this battlefront,” Glaze said. “The stand down is an opportunity to heighten awareness by offering a menu to commanders, those leaders down to the unit to figure out what is specific to their communities and populations — relationship challenges or financial challenges — then making sure the assets are available to them.”
In the end, he said, the solution to Army suicides rests with Soldiers asking for help and recognizing that it’s okay to come forward and ask for help without repercussion.
“Seeking help when needed is a sign of strength, help is out there, it’s available and it works,” Glaze said. “The quicker you get help, the quicker you get back into the fight.”