Soldiers and civilians from U.S. Army North took a "stand-down day" March 2 to discuss suicide and how to prevent it from happening anywhere within the Army family.
The stand down comes after suicides in the Army hit a record high in 2008, with the suicide rate rising steadily for the past four years. Last year there were 128 confirmed suicides in the Army and 15 still under investigation.
Lt. Gen. Thomas R. Turner, ARNORTH commanding general, started the morning emphasizing to all ARNORTH personnel the importance of the training and awareness within their sections.
"ARNORTH is not immune to many of the risk factors that you will learn about," Turner told over 400 Soldiers and civilians assembled in the historic quadrangle of the command's headquarters. "The operational tempo for all remains high and we need to be cognizant and understand the suicide risk factors, warning signs, and how to take appropriate and proven steps for intervention."
The Secretary of the Army appointed Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli to lead the Army efforts, in collaboration with other organizations such as the Veterans Administration, to effectively address the increasing problem of suicides.
Chiarelli has directed an Army "stand-down" to address the problem, between Feb. 15 and March 15, which ARNORTH conducted March 2. During that time, Chiarelli said, commanders will take time to address the problem "head on".
The general also said the Army would follow the stand-down with a chain-teaching program -- an Army method used to ensure every individual Soldier has been exposed to new material -- during the 120-day period after March 15.
"The second thing that is absolutely critical is to reach out to Soldiers and tell them it is not wrong to reach out for help," Chiarelli said. "We have to change our culture."
In the past, he said, it has been a culture in all the military services, that accessing mental health resources was detrimental to a servicemember's career.
"That is something we have got to turn around," he said. "We are committed to doing that. And that is all leaders -- review what they have done in the past, what has helped us in the past -- and continue to do those. At the same time, to reach out to their Soldiers and make sure there is no stigma."
The Army's stand-down includes training to help Soldiers recognize suicidal behavior in their fellow Soldiers, as well as teach them techniques to intervene. Army North conducted the training in small groups throughout the headquarters, facilitating important discussion about the problem that engaged every member of the command.
"A suicide in a unit is a very serious matter. It's a loss to our family and is detrimental to unit readiness," said Staff Sgt. John Burris, intelligence analyst, ARNORTH. "Every unit in the Army should adhere to the training guidance and ensure it's presented in a way that each Soldier will take it to heart. Whether deployed or running ranges back in garrison it can be stressful. We're one family and we should be looking out for each no matter what."
"Let us, together, do everything within our power to ensure that we are prepared to intervene on behalf of our fellow workers and family members," said Turner. "Our organization is just too small to lose one member, each and every Soldier, any civilian and family member is vital to our mission."