Together we stand, divided we fall
September 14, 2009
BAGHDAD - Suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems. Do not pass go, do not collect $200 - go straight to dead.
The suicide rate for the U.S. Army in 2008 was the highest number in the 28 years it has been keeping track of Soldiers who take their lives. In addition, it was the fourth year in a row that the number has risen.
It is said with great frequency that the Army, and the military in general, is a family. We fight together, we eat together, we work together - in every aspect of our military lives it is community that is a constant. It can be a shoulder to lean on when we are feeling down, a stalwart reassurance that we belong to something valid and meaningful.
The military has invested time, money and effort into fighting what has become an increasing problem, an ugly truth, but a truth nonetheless. Training seminars have been long been in place to educate service members on the warning signs of suicidal behavior and intervention techniques. In essence, the Army has trained its Soldiers to be ready to pull their comrades away from the abyss, so to speak, to save them before they take that irreversible plunge.
This is a necessary solution to address the dilemma. But we can't stop there if our goal is to eliminate the problem instead of stemming the flow. Can't damage control be averted, at least in some instances, by damage prevention'
No man or woman is an island unto themselves. Our strength is derived from the people around us, not just ourselves. That being said, an individual problem is a community problem by any other name.
Thus a community falls back on its leaders to offer solutions. This year has been designated as the "Year of the NCO." I see that as a great excuse to really examine our role as NCOs and analyze it in order to figure out how we can become better leaders.
Noncommissioned officers are the first line of leadership in our respective units. We have the most hands-on contact with the troops in our employ, we are the example they look up to and the mentor that guides them to their full potential. In the family, we are the big brother or sister, someone our younger "siblings" can trust, someone they should be able to talk to about anything.
As leaders, we need to be available if one of our Soldiers has a problem they need to talk about. As leaders, we need to pay attention and know our Soldiers well enough to tell when something's wrong. If we see a problem manifest itself, then it is our responsibility to find a way to fix it.
But the burden of responsibility can't fall on leaders alone. Like a family, we all need to communicate with each other. We can't be afraid to talk about our problems and, furthermore, we can't be afraid to listen to someone else's. That goes for privates all the way to generals - it is everyone's responsibility to hold the family together.
A person at the point of suicidal tendencies often feels alone and isolated from the world around them. No one should ever have to feel alone in the military. Despair and any sense of isolation can be combated by reinforcing the sense of belonging that we all should have by virtue of being part of the military family.
Suicide is a problem in the military and the world at large. However, the military has a unique advantage to combat the problem because every Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine has a support group in place at all times, should they need it. We owe it to our comrades in arms to provide that support in the time of need.
If we can be proactive about reading the emotions of those around us, we can gain ground in the battle against suicide. Sometimes all it takes is open eyes and ears.