Fort Lee community focus energies on prevention of suicide, sexual misconduct
October 4, 2012
FORT LEE, Va. (Oct. 4, 2012) -- The serious messages of suicide prevention reverberated loudly and resolutely within the confines of Fort Lee Sept. 27 as community members gathered in every corner of the installation for a day of awareness and training designed to stem a growing and somewhat consistent problem.
Officially called Army Suicide Prevention Stand Down Day, the observance took place at virtually every Army installation in the world with the purpose of offering solutions to a problem Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III called "the toughest enemy I have faced in my 37 years in the Army." He mandated the event after learning that two Soldiers committed suicide in July and another 36 were under investigation for the same reason.
Maj. Gen. Larry D. Wyche, commanding general, Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee, put himself at the forefront of the installation's suicide prevention campaign from the very beginning. On stand down day, he led roughly 8,000 military and civilian participants on a 6 a.m. installation physical training run that comprised just about every unit at Fort Lee. Unit runs are part of an Army tradition used to boost morale, encourage camaraderie and rally the troops. Wyche used the occasion to do just that, taking advantage of a fire ladder truck and public address system to directly address hundreds gathered at the CASCOM headquarters following the run to personalize the Army messages on suicide prevention and other subjects.
"I firmly believe that high standards complimented with consistency are marks of true professionals, and that's Team Lee," he said from the ladder bucket elevated about 30 feet off the ground. "We need that same level of dedication and commitment on and off the battlefield."
Wyche then wasted little time getting to the gist of his message.
"We have had several Soldiers as well as Family members who have made suicidal comments as well as attempted suicide," he said. "Team, we need your help. We need help. We must take care of one another."
The general went on to address what Team Lee members must do if they should find themselves or someone else in a situation in which they could cause harm to themselves or others.
"If you are having those thoughts or you see a battle buddy having those thoughts, reach out and give him or her a helping hand," he said.
Noting that the installation is launching an informational and support campaign called "What can I do, not what should I have done," Wyche again emphasized individual responsibility and community support in combating a persistent problem that claimed 165 active duty Soldiers last year and more than 80 this year.
"It's our intent not to lose another life due to suicide," he said.
The Army has also identified sexual misconduct, sexual harassment and sexual assault as pressing issues, and Wyche addressed them as well, saying they are "simply not consistent with Army values and our Warrior Ethos. We will treat each other with dignity and respect. We will take care of one another. It's all about trust -- trusting your battle buddy as well as trusting your leadership."
Wyche also made no secret of how he intends to deal with such cases.
"All sexual assault and misconduct allegations will be dealt with accordingly and appropriately," he said, "and we will take all of them very, very seriously."
Wyche, who has been in command about three months, concluded his speech in the tone of a war fighter, reiterating teamwork and action in solving problems and pressing ahead.
"We will show people we are the best," he said, "We will speak softly, carry a big stick and let the results show. We will attack, attack, attack and attack suicide prevention and sexual misconduct, and there's no doubt in my mind that we'll get in the end zone together."
The PT event was the first full installation run conducted here since the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure plan brought the Ordnance and Transportation schools to Fort Lee, joining the Quartermaster School and Army Logistics University.
Sgt. 1st Class Barry Brown, a run participant assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, CASCOM, said a PT run is always a good way to connect with the troops.
"It was very motivating," he said, "and I believe the message was heard."
Staff Sgt. Michael Flint, also assigned to HHC, CASCOM, said the run was a good example of "leading from the front."
"I believe the presence of the CG is going to strongly affect not only the noncommissioned officers and officers but also the senior enlisted (Soldiers) who are in the initial entry training units. I believe that message will resonate clear across the board."
Master Sgt. Joseph Petty agreed. He said the value of presence can never be underestimated.
"Soldiers do what they see their leaders do," said the HHC, CASCOM Soldier. "If the leader is out here and his primary focus is suicide prevention and sexual misconduct, then the Soldiers are inclined to do the same. I think it was a good idea for him to come out here and do it."
The PT run had an impact on the Army's newest Soldiers as well. Pfc. Taylor Whitestar, a track vehicle mechanic student at the Ordnance School, said the general's message brought to mind the importance of her role as a Soldier and supporter."
"I think about how much I want to be there to help my battle buddies," she said. "All of us need that assurance that we're not in this alone… that we (Soldiers) are always here for each other and can get through anything together because we're part of a team."
The PT run event was just the beginning of a full day of installation training and information on suicide prevention and sexual misconduct. Other activities included a mandatory education and awareness session for all U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Lee, military and civilian employees at the Soldier Support Center.
On the other side of post, the Ordnance School held a series of classes that focused on suicide prevention, resilience-building and reinforced Soldiers' training on the Army's Ask, Care and Escort campaign and the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention program. Several prayer breakfasts were also scheduled throughout the week, and the 23rd Quartermaster Brigade organized an insightful panel discussion in the PWD auditorium (see Page 3).
Sgt. 1st Class Raydeen Edwards, executive administrative assistant for the Transportation Corps regimental command sergeant major, said the stand-down and the Army's ongoing challenges concerning suicide punctuates the fact that more is needed to tackle the problem.
"This is a day that I think the Army needs to have continuously," she said. "I've been on many suicide watches with Soldiers to make sure they were OK and to show them how to deal with hard times in the military. I've also known Soldiers who killed themselves while they weren't on watches because there was no one to take care of them.
"I agree with the Army's position that more suicide prevention awareness is needed so they can train Soldiers to know and identify potential warning signs of suicide."