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Suicide Prevention Stand Down
As you may know, the Army set aside today to focus on a serious issue plaguing our force: suicide.
The Army released suicide data today for the month of August. During August, among active-duty soldiers, there were 16 potential suicides: three have been confirmed as suicides and 13 remain under investigation. For July, the Army reported 26 potential suicides among active-duty soldiers: 13 have been confirmed as suicides and 13 remain under investigation. For 2012, there have been 131 potential active-duty suicides: 80 have been confirmed as suicides and 51 remain under investigation. Active-duty suicide number for 2011: 165 confirmed as suicides and no cases under investigation.
To be honest, I was a bit frustrated initially that we were going to sit through yet another suicide prevention briefing, only longer! After all, the Army’s solution to every problem is a Powerpoint presentation. What I found was a very well-executed and focused effort to legitimately address the causes, the effects, and the mitigators of suicides. There are several things that Ft. Hood did differently than in the past I think made today’s training more meaningful and useful: classes were generally given to groups of no more than 20 troops and the instructors were mostly certified Master Resiliency Trainers. I’m not sure if this is the way the entire post or the entire Army conducted the training, but this was my experience and observation. There were a lot of open-ended questions and I’m pretty sure everyone had at least some input to the discussions.
Army Chief of Staff, General Raymond T. Odierno, sent out a message to his troops and leaders pleading for assistance in fighting this plague.
Today, our Army will stand down to conduct suicide prevention training. This is an opportunity to heighten awareness for Soldiers, Civilians, Families and communities about suicide threat factors, about the resources available for help, and about building resiliency across the force.
I cannot overemphasize how important this issue is to me. Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy to our Families, to our units, and to our Army.
We must work together to create a culture and an environment where people feel comfortable getting the behavioral health assistance that they need. Our Warrior Ethos states “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” I need everyone to take that to heart. Every individual contemplating suicide has a friend, Family member, or leader in the position to help. I need you all to get involved. Intervening requires personal courage and leadership. It isn’t easy, but there is no room for bystanders.
We are a resilient Army, and we are committed to building our individual and collective strength – physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and within our Families. You must continue to refine and apply the resiliency skills you learn.
Last week I visited Afghanistan, Djibouti, and the Sinai Peninsula where I had the opportunity to talk with, present awards to, and re-enlist Soldiers. I am so proud of and humbled by the dedication and professionalism I see throughout the Army on a daily basis. Every member of our Army Family is important, and we will never waver on providing you the care and support you so rightly deserve.
Raymond T. Odierno
General, 38th Chief of Staff
United States Army
The strength of our Nation is our Army,
The strength of our Army is our Soldiers,
The strength of our Soldiers is our Families,
This is what makes us Army Strong!
I’ve been very vocal on this blog and elsewhere about the need to take care of our troops and stem the tide of suicides. I’ve shared my own experiences dealing with the demons that can torment the minds of combat veterans. And while there are still those that want to use my efforts against to score some sort of ego-driven point, I’ve been fortunate that my writings have succeeding in gaining the trust and confidence a more than a few Soldiers I was able to talk away from cliff.
Suicide is preventable and I’m glad that the training today focused largely on the fact that there is no shame in seeking help. Leaders are called to task to know their troops intimately and ensure they foster an environment of trust and confidence. Good Charlotte has a great song out called, “Hold On.” From the beginning, the band notes that “this world is cold…but you don’t have to go.”
Having been to the decision point of taking my own and making the wise decision instead to pick up a phone instead of picking up a gun, I can tell you firsthand that NOTHING in life is worth your life. There is so much out there that we aren’t aware of waiting for our influence.
One of the most important things Soldiers (and anyone) needs to really understand is that we have to recognize that when the thought of suicide is going through our minds, we are not thinking rationally. To this day, I look back on that dark night back in May 2010 and I’m dumbfounded that I was even there. Sure, I can see all the signs leading up to that near-fatal decision in retrospect and I think, “what the hell was I down about?”
That night seemed to have creeped up on me out of nowhere. It was a last-minute decision that would have probably shocked everyone. I don’t think my leaders or fellow troops could have looked back and said, “ahh, if we have paid attention to this or that.”
There are so many resources available through the Army, each individual post, and the local community to help us deal with our combat traumas and other stresses of military and civilian life. Soldiers and families in need of crisis assistance can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained consultants are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and can be contacted by dialing 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or by visiting their website at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Army leaders can access current health promotion guidance in newly revised Army Regulation 600-63 (Health Promotion) at: http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/pdf/r600_63.pdf and Army Pamphlet 600-24 (Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention) at http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/pdf/p600_24.pdf.
The Army’s comprehensive list of Suicide Prevention Program information is located at http://www.preventsuicide.army.mil.
Suicide prevention training resources for Army families can be accessed at http://www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/suicide/training_sub.asp?sub_cat=20 (requires Army Knowledge Online access to download materials).
Information about Military OneSource is located at http://www.militaryonesource.com or by dialing the toll-free number 1-800-342-9647 for those residing in the continental United States. Overseas personnel should refer to the Military OneSource website for dialing instructions for their specific location.
Information about the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program is located at http://www.army.mil/csf/.
There are always going to be dirtbags out there that try to make your life a living hell. Believe me, I get it quite often from people trying damage my reputation and military experiences. The key is not to place any value on those opinions.
There’s a catch phrase we Master Resiliency Trainers use called “hunt the good stuff.” One key to this is at the end of each day find three GOOD things that happened that day. Keep a daily journal of just these three events each day. They don’t have to be stand out or special moments. It could be something as simple as “I didn’t hit a single red light today” or as meaningful as “A Soldier opened up to me about marital problems.”
We, as human beings, are experts at what we call “catastrophizing.” That’s taking one bad thing that happened at the start of the day or week and building the rest of our time around that single event. It probably has its roots from back in the days of our caveman ancestry. When we left our cave or dwelling we had to look for all the things that could affect us in our environment. If were weren’t aware of the threats to our existence we would cease to be.
We don’t have to be like that any longer. We have evolved to the point that most threats are mitigated. The suicide solution is no solution at all. If you find yourself in that position where your brain is telling you that life is just too much to take, call someone. Always keep the contact information of someone you trust with you at all times. If you make that fatal decision, you’ll NEVER know what happiness would have been like; that happiness that you would have eventually achieved.
I truly hope that our leaders, especially our junior and senior NCOs and field grade officers really learned something today. I can’t tell you how many Soldiers have come to me for help because they didn’t feel like their leaders cared. The impression was that their feelings wouldn’t be taken seriously or would just cause a distraction. Being a leader is not a distraction. When a Soldier comes to you for help, be there for him. At that moment in time, there is nothing more important than the welfare of that Soldier.
It’s okay for leaders not to have all the answers. Most of the time, they just need you to listen. But, know where to go and what resources are available (see above) in case you find that you can’t handle a situation your Soldier is facing.
General Colin Powell once said, “The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” Don’t let that day ever come.
“The loss of any life is a tragedy, and this loss is preventable,” said Sergeant Major of the Army Ray Chandler. “As an organization, we’ve taken huge strides in providing our Soldiers, Department of Army Civilians and Family members the needed resources to aid in suicide prevention, but our work isn’t done. Army leaders will continue to do everything we can to reverse these trends.”