Media roundtable focuses spotlight on recent Fort Hood suicides
September 30, 2010
FORT HOOD, Texas (Sept. 30, 2010) -- When word broke of several apparent suicides in the Fort Hood area over the weekend, Maj. Gen. Will Grimsley, the installation's senior commander, called together all brigade-level commanders and their command sergeants major and directed them to take a hard look for at-risk Soldiers in their ranks. He directed them to pass the word down to battalion commanders and company commanders, as well.
"We use this term of 'engaged leadership,' in some cases it requires intrusive leadership to break through some of these little points of insularity that we're finding in our Soldiers and certainly in society," he said solemnly as he addressed members of the media at the Fort Hood Resiliency Campus on Wednesday.
The latest deaths put Fort Hood at six possible suicides under investigation and 14 confirmed since Jan. 1. In 2009, there were 11 confirmed suicides. In 2008, Fort Hood confirmed 14 suicides, the highest number on recent record.
"It's personally and professionally frustrating for anyone as a leader," Grimsley said.
"I will tell you that every one of these is tragic. The rate is higher than any of us, anybody in a leadership position anywhere in the Army wants," he stressed. He added that leaders locally and Army-wide are devoted to tackling suicide head-on. As part of that approach, Grimsley is asking leaders at all levels to remain vigilant in their search for any Soldier who might need assistance.
"I think we have extraordinary resources at Fort Hood and across the Army," Grimsley said as he touched on a long list of programs available to Soldiers and their families. There are family life consultants, chaplains, behavioral health specialists, Army Community Services counselors and the myriad resources of the Fort Hood Resiliency Campus, which is dedicated to the well-being of the body, mind and soul.
While he spoke, a chaplain-led Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training workshop was taking place down the hall in the Spiritual Fitness Center. The ASIST workshop consists of specialized suicide-intervention training designed for Army caregivers, as well as the average Soldier, who is often closest to those considering suicide.
With so many programs available, the general continued to stress that leadership is where suicide prevention must start. In addition to looking closely for at-risk Soldiers from the company to the brigade levels, he directed leaders to conduct health and welfare checks in all the barracks on Fort Hood and to touch base with Soldiers in the rank of sergeant and below who live off the installation.
He also asked that chains of command review the lists of Soldiers who have registered privately-owned weapons as a precaution.
Grimsley was asked if there was any type of theme to the spike in suicides at Fort Hood in recent months.
"I really don't know. I wish I did," he said. "I don't think there is a simple answer."
The suicide trends at Fort Hood tend to follow the demographics of Soldier suicides Army-wide. Generally, those who have committed suicide are young, male, junior-enlisted Soldiers with one deployment who have some sort of social, relationship or financial issue, the general said. In addition, Grimsley noted that there are many stressors unique to the Army. Chief among those are the years of persistent conflict. He said that, after years of war, many young leaders are incredibly adept at battlefield leadership, but basic leadership skills may need to be reinforced throughout the ranks. He said he considers it his personal mission to help mentor and empower leaders at all levels.
Grimsley told the assembled media members that older, experienced leaders can help younger leaders learn additional skills which might be able to help them better identify at-risk Soldiers.
"Let's balance their incredibly effective combat operations with good, basic leadership skills in the garrison," he said.
Grimsley said that the loss of a Soldier to suicide is a hard burden to carry and a loss felt throughout the community, especially by the unit and the Soldiers who worked side-by-side with those who took their own lives.
"Those 14 Soldiers and their losses are felt every day by their leaders and their formations," he said.
He also discussed concern that there is a stigma associated with those who seek help. Grimsley acknowledged that although the Army has pushed the idea that Soldiers won't be looked at in a different light if they ask for help, that message is not always accepted throughout the ranks.
"There is no actual stigma associated with people seeking counseling or behavioral health or going to the chaplain," he said. However, Grimsley noted that a stigma associated with seeking help does still exist in the perception of some in the military.
He said Fort Hood and the Army have not shied away from encouraging suicidal Soldiers to come forward and use the resources available, stressing that there is more than one agency committed to providing help to those with suicidal ideations.
"The point is, there are an awful lot of people who are committed to do the right thing here," he said.