FORT SILL, Okla.-- Fort Sill officers, civilians and noncommissioned officers filled Sheridan Theater Sept. 25 to learn more about preventing sexual assault and suicide.

Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general, called for the morning meeting to address sexual assault and suicide prevention efforts ahead of the Sept. 27 Suicide Stand Down Day.

"It's important we spend some time making sure we, as leaders, are in sync before taking an entire day to discuss these issues with Soldiers," said McDonald.

Two acting troupes -- Lifelines from Fort Hood, Texas, and Sex Signals from Lawton -- used audience participation to increase attention to these serious concerns.

The general said the day is critical because the Defense Department is losing a service member per day to suicide.

He cited professional experts who said today's generation views suicide as a viable option to troubles they face.

"Don't think it's unusual for people to talk about or think about suicide. There is plenty of stigma attached to someone who expresses suicidal thoughts or attempt. We have to reduce that. Just because you have Soldiers who have expressed some thought of suicide, it doesn't mean they are broken or can't get fixed. The key to this is each of you talking to your first line leaders and making sure they understand, it's not just OK to recognize this, it's a requirement."

He said the risk factors are clear and available for anyone to review and act upon before another life is lost.

"It's all about Soldier trust in his or her leadership to help them through whatever problem they have," he said. "When I see a big spike in suicide ideations, that tells me your leaders are involved, because it means these are getting reported and help is being initiated."

Robert Dodrill, post suicide prevention program manager, said Soldiers and civilians here are doing what they are supposed to do referring people who expressed thoughts of suicide to behavioral health or other agencies that can help them.

Dodrill added "leader awareness and involvement is key for a couple reasons." First, he said McDonald is highly involved and no matter how minor an instance might appear, he makes commands call him as soon as something happens. Second, engaged leaders help him help them.

"When good reporting of suicide ideations is accomplished; I can review which units seem to be having problems, intervene and provide additional training," he said.

The general reemphasized the value of leadership trust.

"You don't have to wait for a suicide ideation. Sit down and ask your Soldiers, 'What's on your mind or why are you abusing alcohol?'" said McDonald. "They will tell you if they trust their leaders."

He then turned to sexual assault and said most assaults and rapes happen to women Soldiers new to their units and almost half of the assailants are leaders E-5 and above.

He said the Army must set the standard regarding rape and sexual assault prevention as it did in other areas, such as integration.

Page last updated Thu September 27th, 2012 at 00:00