Fort Rucker events celebrate life
September 6, 2012
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (September 6, 2012) -- As suicide rates in the Army continue at high levels, the post offers events that celebrate life, educate and build camaraderie during Suicide Prevention Month in September.
"What our overall goal [for Suicide Prevention Month] is to be able to get the message out there that there really are things to live for," said Chaplain (Col.) Dennis R. Newton, garrison and U.S Army Aviation Center of Excellence chaplain. "Life is worth living no matter how bad things are around you. In another day, another month or another year, life will be different."
The campaign will kick off with the "Swing Fore Life" golf tournament Sept. 7 at the Silver Wings Golf Course, which is open to the public, and other events include the Strike Out Suicide Bowling Tournament Sept. 13, and 20 at the Bowling Center, and the return of the "Music Under the Alabama Stars" concert series Sept. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at Howze Field.
The need for awareness of suicide prevention is high. In July, suicides in the Army averaged more than one per day with 38 confirmed or suspected suicides, according to the Army, and is the highest one-month tally in recent Army history.
"I feel that since we've got so many Soldiers coming back [from war], we're just not challenging them," said Newton. "I think we've just got so many guys back and we've got the issues with [post traumatic stress disorder] and [traumatic brain injuries], and I think that some of these guys are feeling like they don't have the purpose that they once had."
One of the main things Newton said that people should be aware of is a change in behavior.
"You want to look for whether they seem depressed or if they're having mood swings," he said. "One thing I look for is if they are giving things away … or if they suddenly take no interest in something that is their hobby. You look for changes, and then it's a case of just knowing them -- you've got to be their friend."
Newton said people should get involved socially with the person if they suspect that they might be suicidal.
"Ask them what's going on and what has changed," he said. "Ask, 'Are you doing alright?' or the question I always ask is, 'Are you feeling safe?'"
The campaign reaches far beyond Fort Rucker and is an issue that is recognized by the Army's top leaders.
The Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III ordered an Army-wide suicide "stand down," which is scheduled for Sept 27. As a way to familiarize all members of the Army Family with health promotion and suicide prevention, as well as reduce the stigma associated with seeking care for behavioral health issues.
Newton spoke about the issue and said that the problem people have with seeking help is that many think that it will reflect negatively upon them.
"The image of it is that it's going to be used against you somehow, maybe at a board, or you might somehow lose security clearance," he said. "[People think] that it's somehow going to get into their record. The stigma comes from what people have perceived from the way it's been handled in the past. Is it going to be used against you? No, it's not."
During a recent visit, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III spoke during a town hall meeting about the stigma associated with seeking help.
He spoke of a near-death experience he had while deployed that affected him in a way that caused him to turn off his emotions to be able to continue his job as a command sergeant major. He said it affected him in such a way that he sought out individual and Family counseling.
"It made a big difference in my life," said Chandler. "If I can be the Sergeant Major of the Army and be in health care counseling, you can be in whatever it is that you do, and get help and get counseling, and there is nothing wrong with that.
"I had some help … and it has really made a huge difference in my life," he said. "I'm a better man, I'm a better husband, I'm a better father and, last but not least, I'm a better Soldier because of my counseling."
There are many ways that people can get help on Fort Rucker if they feel overwhelmed through behavioral medicine at Lyster Army Health Clinic, Army Community Service military life consultants or talking to any of the post chaplains, but Newton suggests that people seek help any way they can.
"You've got to find a purpose in life," he said. "As a chaplain, I would say to go and make peace with God, but you've got to go out and find where it is that you feel comfortable. We've got eight chaplains on post and all of them are helpful guys that love their Soldiers … if you have any questions, just come in and see us."
For more information, call 255-7508.