By Nondice Powell, Fort Campbell CourierMarch 28, 2009
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., March 26, 2009 -- For the third leg of his eight-day tour of seven Army installations, Army Vice Chief of Staff Peter Chiarelli visited Fort Campbell March 26 to discuss suicide prevention following the recent one-month stand-down of all Army units.
"I'm here to look at what they are doing and see the commitment of the leadership," said Chiarelli. "I can tell you there is no more committed leadership than the leadership here at Fort Campbell at getting a handle on this situation."
Chiarelli spent the day visiting with Soldiers, leaders and their families. While visiting Soldiers in the Warrior Leader Course, he spoke with some young Soldiers who already have deployed three to four times in their short careers.
"Ten years ago if I had walked into that class, the person with the combat patch would have been the anomaly," said Chiarelli. "There is no doubt in my mind that the stress of the force is great. It is a tired force and we've got to do everything we possibly can to help Soldiers and families deal with that stress."
Some of the highlights he spoke of what Fort Campbell is doing right are alternative pain management and the strength of the Warrior Transition Unit.
"The WTU here is one of the best we have in the Army," said Chiarelli. "I'm very impressed with the leadership of the WTU and what they're doing."
Chiarelli feels the alternative pain programs he has seen at Fort Campbell and Fort Bragg can only be helpful to Soldiers. He explained many Soldiers in the WTUs have chronic pain and helping them manage pain without mind-altering drugs can only be positive.
Chiarelli is concerned about the number of suicides in the Army. There were 133 confirmed suicides in 2008 and seven pending making a possible total of 140 suicides for the year. For the first time these numbers are higher than the civilian rate. The Army's suicide rate last year was 20 per 100,000 while there current statistics from the Center for Disease Control has the civilian rate at 19 per 100,000.
"For the first time in as long as I've been in the Army, and that's a long time, it's higher than the national average," said Chiarelli. "This is not business as usual. We're going to do everything we possibly can to lower that number as fast as we possibly can."
Chiarelli explained for many within the Army there is a stigma of what will happen if they say they need help. Soldiers worry it may affect their career, peers may think less of them, feel they just need to tough it out and more. He emphasized that a Soldier's career will not be put at risk and encouraged anyone in need to seek help.
"We need to get those in the Army and families to understand, this is no different than any other injury," said Chiarelli. "You need to seek professional help when you realize you need it and not let the stigma get in the way of that."
Chiarelli spent more than two hours recently with commanders world-wide on a video teleconference discussing confirmed suicides within their command. He explained some you could tell wish maybe something had been done differently and that in others everything was done to help the Soldier and yet the outcome was still suicide.
"It was the most intense two-and-a-half hours I've ever spent," said Chiarelli. "This is a very, very difficult problem."
In addition to Chiarelli, a suicide prevention task force met with various organizations and care providers to find out what steps are being taken to help decrease the number of suicides. Chiarelli and the task force will compile their findings after the trip and make them available to the Secretary of the Army, the Army Chief of Staff and the force as a whole. The goal is to look at what resources are needed find out what is being done well, what could be taken to other installations, and how to design the best program possible to decrease the number of suicides.
"He's very passionate about this," said Lt. Col. Shelly Martin-Hing, Army Vice Chief of Staff public affairs officer. "He is looking at trying to get ahead of the problem and gathering and sharing ideas."