Leadership key to tackling suicide, says Medal of Honor recipient
August 9, 2010
ST. LOUIS (Army News Service, Aug. 8, 2010) -- Leadership at all levels is the key to lowering the suicide rate among servicemembers, a Medal of Honor recipient told National Guard members Sunday.
Retired Army Maj. Drew Dix received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam. Now, he has been talking with servicemembers about resiliency and suicide prevention.
Suicide rates have spiked in the Army and Air National Guard, as they have in other components of the armed forces.
"This problem ... is a leadership problem," Dix told Soldiers and Airmen gathered for the National Guard Enlisted Awards luncheon during the 39th annual conference of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States. "It's not going to be solved at the top level."
Rather, it takes leadership at all levels, he told an audience that included the National Guard's outstanding Soldiers and Airmen of the year.
In the Vietnam era, "a sergeant knew everything about every man or woman in that unit," he said. "You ought to know everything about them.
"I don't believe for a minute that the military is creating this situation where people want to take their lives - not for a minute," he said, noting that about half of servicemembers who have killed themselves never deployed. "The military's not causing it - but the military can solve the problem ... It's unacceptable. We've got to solve this problem.
"We have an opportunity here. We have a family, if we treat it that way. And if we see a situation that's not right, we get involved."
Technology, such as cell phones, is inadequate if it is the only interaction between leaders and their Soldiers and Airmen, he said.
Leaders must look Soldiers and Airmen in the eye. "We need to make an effort to avoid talking [through gadgets]," he said.
The unique nature of the National Guard means that leaders must take extra steps to communicate with their troops after deployments, he said.
"They're dealing with civilian [employers and family members] that don't understand what they just went through," Dix said. "They don't understand. You can't try to explain it to them."
Small unit members should contact troops regularly, and "not just wait for one weekend a month," Dix said.
"We have got to be positive when we talk to Soldiers and Airmen," he said. "They've got to know the importance of their job."