Fort Bragg leadership emphasizes suicide prevention is instrumental in sustaining the force
September 3, 2010
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - A recent increase in suicides within the Army community has prompted Fort Bragg officials to dedicate more awareness to its Suicide Prevention Program.
As the Army turns its focus to Suicide Prevention Month, which is held in September, officials at Fort Bragg, the Army's largest post in population, said it's important that Soldiers know there's help available. The Army Suicide Prevention Program has garnered national interest as the Army recently released a comprehensive 350-page report, under the direction of Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, who heads the Army's Suicide Prevention Task Force.
"The number one issue identified in this report and the biggest systemic problem we have, is the lost art of leadership in garrison," said Larry Holland, Fort Bragg's Suicide Prevention Program manager. "We're doing great at war. Commanders and Soldiers know how to go and fight a war, win it and come back home, but the second piece of this is that Soldiers have become transients in garrison."
Holland explained that once the deployments are over, most Soldiers are either transitioning out of the Army, to new units and installations, or attending schools. This, Holland said, allows Soldiers who may have problems or suicidal tendencies to sometimes "fall through the cracks."
In an interview with ABC News correspondent Christiane Amanpour, following the release of the report, Chiarelli pointed out that there was no direct connection between multiple deployments and increased risk of suicide.
The report noted that 36 percent of active-duty Soldiers who commit suicide have never deployed. Chiarelli explained that 60 percent of suicides are during the Soldier's first term of enlistment and he emphasized that the growing strain on military leaders increased risky behavior in some Soldiers and made monitoring at-risk Soldiers harder.
Holland added that the report recommends that the Army re-address the art of leading in garrison to take care of Soldiers.
He said locally, the campaign plan leading up to Suicide Prevention Month has gotten the attention of XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg Commanding General Lt. Gen. Frank G. Helmick and Maj. Gen. Rodney O. Anderson, the corps' deputy commanding general.
"One thing that everyone has expressed that they want to do is find a personal interest story that someone would be willing to share," Holland said.
He explained that after having little luck finding someone who would share their story, he decided to tell his own story.
"I'm finding it difficult too, but I'm willing to put my story out there so that people can know that no matter what point they get to, in trouble or despair, they need help. If they seek help, we've got the help here at Fort Bragg and they can recover. They can move on. I'm living proof of that," he added.
Holland was a chaplain and as such, he said he was able to talk to anyone about anything. He also possessed the ability to sympathize with them. He said he never imagined that what they were going through would eventually affect him.
"I never thought it would happen to me," Holland said. "And yet, I went through some of the same stressors that I know Soldiers are going through and I learned to never say 'never' because it did happen to me."
Holland explained that his ordeal made him a better chaplain, because afterwards he was able to better empathize with the Soldiers he listened to.
"I could say to them honestly, 'hey, I know what you're going through, I've been there,'" Holland said, "and let me tell you, you need some help 'cause you're at a point right now that you're so helpless and you're hopeless that no one else can help you, but they can if you'll allow them to. You can recover from this and you can move on."
Holland was commissioned in the Army as a 36 year-old pastor with 12 years of experience. He explained that he had just finished his doctorate of ministry degree and had a pretty nice-sized church.
"I had kind of arrived in terms of civilian pastors," he said.
He said after eight years of pastoring a very demanding parish, he eventually got burned out and thought about leaving the ministry altogether.
"I was looking for something different, more fulfilling and I went on a mission trip to Kenya," he said. "(I) came back on fire. I wanted to go into the mission field. Well God closed those doors and I didn't get to do that, but he opened up the door to the Army chaplaincy, which was something I never even thought about doing."
Holland said the idea of serving in the Army was new to him, since none of his immediate Family had previously served. He explained that since he served as pastor in a church that was nearly 30 miles from Fort Campbell, Ky., he got to know some Army chaplains and he became fascinated with the ministry that he saw.
He explained that he originally submitted a packet for the Army Reserves after being told that he needed some military experience before going active duty.
"They called me and asked if I wanted to go active duty and within six months, I was at Fort Campbell with the 101st Airborne Division," he said. "I hadn't been in the Army nine months when we went off to Desert Shield/Desert Storm and it hasn't stopped since."
(Editor's note: This story is part one of a four-part series, concerning suicide awareness and prevention that will run in the Paraglide consecutively as we spotlight Suicide Pevention Month in September.)