FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- U.S. Army Forces Command units across the United States are helping ensure suicide prevention and awareness among their Soldiers, Forces Command G-1 personnel officials say.
September is Suicide Prevention Month and the 40th anniversary of Suicide Prevention Day was Sept. 10. National awareness also spotlights ongoing programs and initiatives at posts like Fort Bragg, N.C., Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Stewart, Ga., and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. While personal confidentiality involving specific incidents of suicide remains highly sensitive year round, Army personnel officials cite inspiring examples and promising trends where Soldiers successfully intervened to help a fellow Soldier who was considering taking his or her life.
The Army's theme for Suicide Prevention Month is "Enhancing Resiliency -- Strengthening our Professionals" and many Forces Command Soldiers personify this each day," FORSCOM G-1 officials say.
A 1st Infantry Division Soldier from Fort Riley, Kan., was training at Fort McCoy, Wis., earlier this year when a fellow Soldier mentioned that he planned to commit suicide. The Fort Riley sergeant was a recent "Gatekeeper graduate" of the Army's Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, ASIST, and knew the intervention steps to take immediately. He further questioned the Soldier who as at risk, removed any equipment that could have harmed the Soldier, reported the incident to his platoon sergeant, and escorted the Soldier to the squadron's chaplain and physician's assistant. The "Big Red One" Soldier later followed up by escorting the at-risk trooper to two healthcare facilities over 150 miles away from Fort McCoy to ensure his buddy received proper care."The sergeant's actions are 'brave and responsible' because he found a fellow Soldier in need and took immediate action," said Judy Woodward, the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley health promotion officer.
"At Fort Riley, we have seen a consistent decline in our suicides over the past few years," Woodward said. "It is truly a testament to the caliber of our Soldiers and leaders -- truly living resilience and suicide prevention 365-days a year through the 1st Infantry's 'Big Red One' values. We believe there is no substitute for a leader, fellow Soldier or Family member," Woodward said, "who recognizes when an individual is in distress, and has the knowledge and moral courage to take action to prevent a possibly fatal outcome."
Recently at Fort Knox, a Forces Command Soldier contacted the unit's charge-of-quarters desk to alert the staff-duty noncommissioned officer about a concerning text message from another Soldier saying "it's time." The texted Soldier attempted to get the victim to open her barracks room door, but with no response. The Fort Knox staff duty NCO quickly retrieved a master key and opened the room door, where they found the victim standing on a chair with a belt around her neck trying to tie the other end to a ceiling fan. The staff duty NCO was able to get the Soldier-victim to step down from the chair and remove the belt from her neck. She was escorted to the Fort Knox hospital for assistance, thanks, in part to her friend's quick efforts to contact the chain of command in the barracks.
In additional to solid, caring leadership, Army officials say effective resilience programs and numerous services combined with a climate of mutual trust and respect strengthen Soldiers, Army Civilians and Army Family members during their service. These also potentially combine to maintain strength for a lifetime of professional and personal success.
At Fort Bliss, Texas, an Army sergeant first class who is a boxing coach on post noticed something concerning on one of his Soldier-fighter's social-media page. "I knew the message he was sending by his Facebook post," the Fort Bliss non-commissioned officer explained. The Soldier was away at another Army post and military police there intervened in time to avoid a potential suicide incident. "The Soldier is safe, the Fort Bliss NCO said. "Do not succumb to the darkness," the NCO quoted. "Be transformed by the enlightening of your mind."
"You are helping to reduce suicides in the Army," said Capt. Donnell L. Barnett, a clinical psychologist with the U.S. Army Public Health Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. "Soldiers at every rank continue to make efforts to help their buddies who might be struggling with thoughts of hurting themselves."
The Department of Defense released Sept. 5 the quarterly suicide report for the first quarter of calendar year 2014. The report summarizes suicide incidents for all services and components. During the months of January through March 2014, there were 74 suicides among service members in the active component, 24 suicides among service members in the Army Reserves, and 22 suicides among service members in the Army National Guard.
One small act can make the difference, Defense officials say, in changing these tragic statistics.
The Department of Defense, in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs, has launched "The Power of 1" Campaign in observance of Suicide Prevention Month. The theme underscores the public-service campaign's point that one person has the power to teach resilience, recognize warning signs, intervene, chat, or make a call; it only takes one person or one act to save another person's life.
"Watching out for each other every day is a collective responsibility for the Defense Department's military and civilian workforce," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. "Preventing military suicide is one of DoD's highest priorities and something I'm personally committed to as Secretary of Defense," Hagel said. "As we observe Suicide Prevention Month, we must rededicate ourselves to actively working not only every month, but every day to fulfill our collective responsibility to watch out for each other and take care of each other."
"Our Soldiers, Civilians and Families remain our strength, demonstrating unparalleled skill and professionalism as they support our great Army and defend our Nation," according to an Army leadership "tri-signed letter" from Secretary of the Army Hon. John McHugh, Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno, and Command Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III. "While our commitment to them extends year-round, we call special attention to our ongoing efforts to build individual resiliency skills during the Army's observance of Suicide Awareness Month. We challenge every member of the Total Army Family to seek training opportunities, use available services and resources and continue to develop skills which build personal resilience and lead to positive outcomes during periods of increased stress.
"In support of the Ready and Resilient Campaign, leaders across the Army should assess their units and engage in events and training to foster a climate of trust that supports help-seeking behaviors," the three most senior Army leaders said. "Leaders must set the conditions for enduring culture change in our profession by being interveners instead of bystanders and by living the Army Values daily. Additionally, leaders must bolster resiliency through education and through training and awareness activities. These include training in Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness (CSF2), prevention of sexual harassment and assault, suicide prevention, assessments and intervention techniques and activities that support stigma reduction."
In 2013, suicide in the Army decreased 22 percent from the previous year. The decrease is attributed to training programs, personal intervention and the emphasis the Army has placed on suicide prevention.All branches of the military have ramped up suicide-prevention efforts, Barnett said. One example is the Army Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), which focuses on recognizing opportunities for leaders and buddies to intervene.
The ASIST program encourages leaders to monitor common risk factors for suicide, Barnett said, such as:
• Failed or strained intimate relationships
• Previous suicidal behaviors, thoughts or attempts
• Behavioral health challenges
Additionally, Barnett said, leaders, Family members, buddies and friends can intervene when there are warning signs, such as:
• Changes in behavior, like eating and sleeping habits, or work performance
• Suicide-related talk, hints or express a wish to die
• Isolation or withdrawal from past social situations
Along with the vast number of individuals and organizations available to help our Soldiers, there are programs such as ACE (Ask Care Escort), ACE-SI (Ask Care Escort -- Suicide Intervention) and ASIST available to help leaders (military and civilian) educate our population with regards to warning signs and risk factors associated with someone feeling as if taking their own life is their only option, said Tony Saluzzo, 101ST Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Fort Campbell, Ky., Suicide Prevention Program manager. "ACE is required annually for every Soldier and Army civilian employee, Saluzzo said. "ACE-SI and ASIST are geared more towards leaders although the requirement for ASIST is extended not only to all gatekeepers, but also certain MOSs. Included here are chaplains and chaplain assistants, Family Advocacy Program workers, emergency room medical technicians, military police, and DoDEA school counselors. These groups of professionals are required to attend ASIST regardless of their position within the organization.
"Recognizing that someone may be in trouble is the first crucial step," Saluzzo said. "Then, and just as important, is to reach out to help that Soldier. It seems as if people are more willing to get engaged with someone who may be in trouble. Sometimes Soldiers are afraid to seek help for one reason or another. They may see it as being "weak" or that no one really cares. With encouragement from those of us willing to assist, it may be making it easier for Soldiers to seek the needed help."Someone once said, "It takes a village." Nothing could be truer as all of us strive to take care of our Soldiers, not only on the battlefield, but as importantly, also here at home, Saluzzo said in a recent commentary for the Fort Campbell Courier newspaper while outlining the many programs available to the post's "Screaming Eagles" and other units at the post on the Kentucky-Tennessee boarder.
Another highly recommended national resource is the Military Crisis Line, which offers free and confidential support to service members in crisis or anyone who knows a service member who is, Defense official said. The service is staffed by caring, qualified responders from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), many who have served in the military themselves. The Veterans Crisis Line has answered more than 1.25 million calls and made 39,000 lifesaving rescues since being launched in 2007.Support is offered through the crisis line, online chat, and text-messaging services for all service members (active, National Guard and Reserve) and veterans 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year by visiting the Military Crisis Line website at http://veteranscrisisline.net/ActiveDuty.aspx; Online Chat at: http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/ChatTermsOfService.aspx.
If you think that a Veteran might be in crisis, tell him or her about the Veterans Crisis Line--or make the call yourself. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or text to 838255 for free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.