WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 7, 2009) -- Over the next few months, the Army will place renewed emphasis on its suicide-prevention training and Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, two generals who head the programs said during the Family Forum at the Association of the United States Army annual meeting Tuesday.

Brig. Gen. Colleen L. McGuire, director of the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force, and Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, director of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, agreed that to prevent Soldiers from attempting suicides and other risky behavior, Army leaders - particularly junior leaders - need to care for all aspects of their lives, and recognize that different Soldiers have different backgrounds and different needs.

"After we assess a Soldier's needs, give them the training and education they require, if needed we'll intervene and treat accordingly," McGuire said. "But over time, we're going to build a large population of even more resilient Soldiers to deal with what we're dealing with today."

McGuire also said that while rising Soldier suicide numbers are concerning - there were about 140 active-duty suicides in 2008 in a population of 700,000 - the overall percentages indicate that the Army as a whole is resilient. However, some Soldiers are exhibiting at-risk behaviors, including drug and alcohol abuse, infidelity and sleep deprivation, that the Army needs to address before these behaviors escalate to self harm or suicide attempts, she said.

"My charter shifted a little bit and now we're focusing on, in the next few months, programs that have to do or assist with the chronic Soldier stressors and the stressors placed on their families," McGuire said, explaining that the suicide prevention task force has been the most purposeful project of her life.

"(Comprehensive Soldier Fitness) is not another mandatory training," Cornum said. "You are not going to get psychologically fit from one training event in an hour. It has to be a long-term commitment to improving your psychological health. It's not a screening.

"We already screen people. We have the pre-deployment, the post-deployment, the post-post-deployment, and the periodic self-assessments. They all list a bunch of symptoms and if you have enough of them, you get a referral. But if you don't have symptoms, you get nothing. But there's nothing that really assesses your health. It just assesses your symptoms or absence of disease."

Cornum said that the goal is to treat mental-health problems the way Army leaders and doctors would any other preventable disease. For example, performing CPR can save a heart-attack victim, but it's far better to educate and prevent heart disease in the first place.

Just like Soldiers enter the Army with a range of physical abilities, they also enter the Army with a range of emotional, psychological and spiritual backgrounds and strengths. Just as every Soldier can't run the fastest, every Soldier can't be the most resilient, but the Army can improve both their running times and their resiliency through regularly teaching skills such as problem solving, energy management and putting things in perspective, Cornum said. That way, when traumatic events occur, she said Soldiers will be better equipped to deal with them.

As part of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, the Army plans to provide anonymous, confidential self-assessments to all Soldiers online, and is working on a family version, Cornum said. The assessment will give Soldiers and family members grades and tell them what they should do based on their scores.

The Army is starting resiliency training in every leadership school; in addition, there will be pre- and post-deployment boosters, Cornum said. The Army is also training more than 100 people - primarily noncommissioned officers - to be master resiliency trainers who will help other Soldiers learn resiliency techniques.

Page last updated Wed October 7th, 2009 at 12:26