Fort Lee prayer breakfast serves message of caring
September 27, 2012
FORT LEE, Va. (Sept. 27, 2012) -- A prayer breakfast at the Regimental Club Monday was the first of many activities that took place here this week in connection with today's observance of Suicide Prevention Stand Down Day.
About 150 guests attended the Sustainment Center of Excellence-sponsored breakfast that included welcoming remarks by Maj. Gen. Larry D. Wyche, CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general, and a keynote address by Chaplain (Col.) Charles Egert, installation chaplain.
"As we go through this week, I want us to really think about how we can take better care of one another," said Wyche while discussing the purpose of the observance. He then described the "tremendous" impact of a recent Fort Lee Traveller article that discussed a lieutenant's reaction to the suicide of a close friend and said it is that sort of personal connection that will make the difference in awareness and prevention.
"I'm telling you, team, together we can do this," Wyche continued. "I truly believe from the bottom of my heart that Fort Lee is the best installation in the United States Army, and the reason is that we support one another. So, let's think about those things we can do to strengthen one another and take care of one another. Our goal is to never lose another Soldier or Family member (to suicide) here again."
To be effective, Egert said as he opened his remarks, this week's stand down activities had to promote open and honest dialogue. That can be challenging with a topic that not only touches many people emotionally because of a past experience with suicide, but is also riddled with the negative stigmas of seeking help.
Egert then offered his take on where he feels the problem lies with suicide awareness and prevention. "I would suggest to you a couple of things," he said. "There's not a problem in the military these days with education on the subject … and there's not a problem with training and equipment … I would suggest also that this is not related to military values."
The problem is "value" itself, he continued. "For unless I know that I'm important to a few important people, and unless you know that you're important to a few significant people, we are tempted to minimize our own value and the value of others."
Posing the question, "How is value measured?" -- Egert held up props like a pliers-shaped multi-purpose tool that many would find useful in a field exercise setting but of no real intrinsic value, "unless I told you that this tool was given to me by my father before he passed away. What is the value then?
"And how do we measure the value of our people?" he posed later in the discussion?."In the military, is it based on education? On rank? Experience? Is it based on age? Does an old guy who came in the Army in 1975 have more value than that private in initial entry training?
"I believe we have value not because of what the government said about us, not because of what mom and dad said about us and not because of what our teachers said about us. We have value because God says we have value.
"Let me suggest this … we will solve this suicide problem when we communicate to our brothers and sisters that they have value. We must help others realize that they really are important, that they make a difference. Their lives have purpose and meaning, and they have importance to us 24-7."
There's an old saying that you can tell the measure of a great man by how he treats others in his life, Egert noted. But there's a catch. Before individuals can give value to others, they must see themselves as valuable. They can't give away what they don't possess.
"If others see me as a donkey's rear end, it reflects how I treat others and the expectation to bring them down to my level," said the chaplain. "We are our brother's keeper … let me remind you of that this morning. We have a responsibility for one another. I know I am not the man I was 25 years ago, and thank God I'm not the man I'm going to be 25 years from now. Hopefully, all of us are on a similar path, heading in the direction of where God wants us to be -- serving him and serving one another."
Concluding his talk with a short story about Michael Orr, the professional football player who had little hope of accomplishing anything in his life before being adopted by a Mississippi couple, as depicted in the movie, "The Blind Side," Egert challenged the audience with a simple question.
"Who's the Michael Orr in your life? … That skinny young Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine you rub shoulders with everyday who shows little prospects. I ask you today, this week, this year to treat others in your life with value; not just from a military standpoint, but in the way that God thinks of us all."
Other Stand Down Day activities that have already occurred this week include additional prayer breakfasts on Tuesday and Wednesday (with others scheduled later today and tomorrow), health information fairs at CASCOM and the Post Field House and an installation-wide run this morning.