By Susanne Kappler, Fort Jackson LeaderDecember 1, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C -- Some of the first things new Soldiers do when they arrive at the 120th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception) have been around for generations -- getting an Army haircut, receiving uniforms and undergoing medical tests. But since last January, new Soldiers have been given the opportunity to contribute to a long-term Army-wide study that aims to enhance Soldiers' well-being.
The Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers, or Army STARRS, is a five-year study conducted in partnership with the National Institute of Mental Health that researches factors that influence Soldiers' mental health.
"The ultimate goal is that we're looking for risk and protective factors that affect Soldiers' well-being," said Michaelle Scanlon, Army STARRS project coordinator with the NIMH. "There may be some things that we can discover that put an individual at risk, but there may very well be things that protect somebody from well-being issues. So we're looking at both sides of the mental health issue."
The study consists of five components -- the historical data study, the all Army study, the new Soldier study, the Soldier health outcomes study and the pre/post deployment study. Fort Jackson is one of three installations selected to participate in the new Soldier study, along with Fort Benning, Ga., and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
Participation in the study is completely voluntary, said Chris Duncan, Army STARRS site coordinator for the University of Michigan, which is one of the research partners for the program.
"We ask the Soldiers to participate in an informed consent briefing," Duncan said. "During that briefing, we explain to them how the data is collected, what we're going to do with it, that their answers are strictly confidential -- we strip out all personal identifiers."
To guarantee anonymity, Soldiers are issued an ID number, which is used throughout the process instead of their name or Social Security number.
Duncan said more than 9,000 Soldiers have agreed to participate in the study on Fort Jackson since January. Participants are asked to give blood, which will be analyzed at Rutgers University, and complete a computerized, self-administered survey. Participation in the program takes about 75 minutes, Duncan said.
Scanlon said the questions in the survey include topics such as mood, social support, self image, stress, past injuries, family history, alcohol and drug use, tobacco use and neuro-cognitive tests.
According to the Army STARRS website, the study was prompted by the rising suicide rates in the Army since 2002. Duncan said the program also helps new Soldiers realize that the Army is serious about reducing suicide in its ranks.
"You see posters around the room -- 'One suicide is one too many' -- these are (some of) the Army efforts to reduce (suicide)," he said. "Now they can see somebody, they can put a face on something concrete that's truly taking an active role in trying to reduce (suicides)."
For the 120th, participating in the study initially provided the challenge of fitting it in the battalion's already packed battle rhythm for incoming Soldiers, said Lt. Col. Michael McTigue, the 120th commander. He added that the research team's flexibility and understanding of competing demands made the integration easy.
"From very early on we were made aware that this is part of the Army's commitment to stay mentally fit," McTigue said. "I know it's an important program. I know it will pay big dividends in the end. ... It's all about Soldiers helping Soldiers."
For more information on Army STARRS, visit http://www.armystarrs.org.