By VINCE LITTLEMay 30, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Co-authors of the Army Gold Book addressed Fort Benning's Executive Community Health Promotion Council on Wednesday, highlighting best practices for health promotion, risk reduction and suicide-prevention efforts on post.
Bruce Shahbaz and Lt. Col. Thomas Denzler, who released Generating Health and Discipline in the Force -- Ahead of the Strategic Reset 2012 earlier this year, offered potential solutions to challenges facing Soldiers and Family members during a discussion with installation leaders and the heads of various support agencies. Maj. Gen. David Quantock, the Army provost marshal general, also attended the quarterly council meeting, which is chaired by Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning commanding general.
After more than a decade of war in two theaters, the Gold Book was written as a thorough assessment of what the Army has learned about physical and behavioral health conditions, disciplinary problems and remaining gaps in policy, the authors said. The report serves as a resource for leaders, policymakers, commanders and service providers as they work together to address the unique and difficult issues that lie ahead.
"It's all about restoring the health of our force … and reinstating discipline back at the garrison," said Shahbaz, an Army Risk Reduction Task Force member who works in the Army Surgeon General's Office. "We've lost some of these skills in the Army over the past 10 years. No one thought the wars would go on that long. We changed how we did business because of the heavy operations tempo and deployment cycles.
"Now, we're trying to restore some of that in order to address those problems. We want to revitalize the processes to get better in the Army as a whole."
Denzler, who's assigned to the provost marshal general's office, primarily wrote the Gold Book's disciplinary section, which covers a multitude of crime statistics, trends and offenses, ranging from drunken driving and drug use -- the illegal and synthetic forms -- to domestic violence and child abuse. The report is an informative, "authoritative resource" for commanders in the field tracking incidents and troop behavior.
"We have to get ownership back of the barracks to get a better handle on sexual assaults and the use of designer drugs," Quantock said. "That's where our units will play a stronger role."
A misconception also exists about prescription drug use by Soldiers, Shahbaz said.
"Nobody thinks they're dangerous because they were given out by a doctor," he said. "Statistics-wise, the odds of dying from abuse or improper use of prescription drugs are greater than if you do heroin. We're trying to attack that through medication 'take-back' programs and better awareness."
Officials said Shahbaz and Denzler travel to garrisons across the Army in an effort to strengthen and refine Gold Book practices and approaches to dealing with suicides, high-risk deaths and other potentially dangerous behavior in the ranks.
The Army has endured a sharp rise in the number of documented cases involving post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, Shahbaz said. Part of that is due to better screening measures and heightened command awareness.
"Our wear and tear over the past 10 years has been far more dramatic than any other service branch," he said. "Our Army also suffered through a period where the number of suicides doubled in a four-year stretch. But the rate has been flat for the last three years now. The numbers are still not where we need them to be, but that's an incredibly impressive feat, and leadership recognition of the problem is the reason for it."
Shahbaz said installations have numerous resources, activities and programs through agencies such as Army Community Service, the Family Advocacy Program and the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation to assist Soldiers and Families who might be struggling.
"There are initiatives available to channel that Soldier's adrenaline-seeking behavior coming out of theater, rather than racing their motorcycle on the interstate at 3 a.m.," he said. "Spouses are great early tripwires for spotting risky behavior and warning signs. We just want people to know we're acknowledging these issues and taking steps to prevent individuals from spiraling into the maze when they return home after all these deployments."
Moving forward, organizational climate surveys will become more common, Quantock told the council.
"We need to be able to sniff out toxic climates and figure out which parts of your formation might have problems," he said.
Brown said he's a firm believer in the Army Gold Book and a staunch proponent of its guiding principles.
"This is a superb document and has excellent recommendations for commanders at multiple levels," the commanding general said. "It has some terrific vignettes and examples for leaders to use."