FORT POLK, La. -- Today I'd like to talk to you about a topic that many people find uncomfortable, a topic that is of the utmost importance to all of us.

Suicide.

September has been designated by our Army leaders as Suicide Prevention Month, but suicide is something we need to be aware of -- and watch for -- 365 days a year.

There were 158 reported active-duty Army suicides from January through August of this year. In 2008, there were 128 confirmed suicides among active-duty Soldiers. That's 286 preventable Soldier deaths within a span of 18 months; 286 fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons or daughters who will never greet another day. I think that's tragic.

Soldiers and Families are carrying a pretty heavy burden these days, but we're doing fine. It's up to all of us to recognize that some of these Soldiers are dealing with turmoil in their lives. We need to help them. When we see a fellow Soldier stumbling on or off duty, we reach out to share
our strength as an Army Family. Army leadership is challenging and empowering its leaders, down to first-line supervisors, to reach out and educate our Soldiers about suicide prevention.

I would ask Soldiers, leaders and peers to recognize there is not one problem we can't resolve. Coach your Soldiers to ask for help. Don't let Soldiers seek a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There is no stigma involved in stepping forward to talk to your chain of command, your chaplain, a doctor, someone you trust. Let's help them through these challenging times.

On the online version of the Guardian at www.fortpolkguardian.com, you'll find a compelling story about buddies, about caring, about life. Spc. Joe Sanders came very close to being a 2008 Army suicide statistic. He's alive today because his battle buddy intervened; someone who was aware of the burdens in Spc. Sanders' life, and acted.

Leaders at all levels, friends, Family members and coworkers, remember the acronym ACE: Ask, Care, Escort. If you suspect that someone is contemplating suicide, ask that person if they're planning to commit suicide. Care for that individual by taking away the means to commit suicide -- car keys, weapons or medication. Escort the person to behavioral health, the chaplain or a supervisor. Get that person to qualified, professional help as quickly as possible.

As a society, as an Army Family, we reach out to people that are hurting with another choice -- another way to handle life's burdens. It's up to us. Spc. Sanders is alive today because someone cared enough to intervene. And in return, Joe Sanders is going to save lives because of his willingness to speak out.
Read his story. I think you'll gain some valuable insight.

Sanders has a bright future as a leader. He'll wake to another sunrise tomorrow and lead a fulfilling life because someone understood the need to intervene. The loss of even one more Soldier to suicide is too high a price for us to pay. Every Soldier's life is precious - not just to us, but to their mother, their father -sisters, brothers, wives, husbands and friends. Let's work together to prevent suicides - I think we can.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16