By Cheryl Rodewig, The BayonetJune 27, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. - Fort Benning has had a strong suicide prevention program since the mid-1990s, said Denise Stephens, program manager for Suicide Prevention, which falls under the Army Substance Abuse Program.
With suicides on the rise across the Army, the installation has seen a bigger push for outreach activities, awareness and a holistic approach to preventing suicide.
"'Behind every Soldier is a strong support team; use it to prevent suicide,'" said Stephens, quoting from a prevention poster provided by Military OneSource. "It really gets to the heart of what the Army is -- that resilience. You've got your chain of command, your counselors, your battle buddies, Family, physicians, chaplains, coaches -- and all of those people are there to help. This is where the Army is going."
Prevention in place
Stephens detailed a number of programs or preventive steps that have been created within the past few years, including:
• a Community Health Promotion Council, which allows commanders to approach prevention in a "non-stovepipe" way,
• Shoulder to Shoulder, a series that lets Soldiers who've struggled with issues tell their own stories,
• the installation's first Suicide Awareness Walk, held in April, and
• outreach training for family readiness groups.
"What we know is what's happening to our Soldiers is definitely happening to our Families," Stephens said, "so we really want to come around and support our Families."
The three foundational programs within Suicide Prevention are ACE, ACE-SI and ASIST. The first of these, which stands for Ask, Care, Escort, is required for all Soldiers and Army civilians. ACE-Suicide Intervention training is targeted toward junior leaders and first-line supervisors, but Stephens said others in the community, including FRG leaders and commanders' spouses, often attend. ASIST, or Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, is geared toward chaplains, substance abuse counselors, Army Family Advocacy Program workers and others in frequent contact with high-risk individuals.
Prevention in action
All these efforts are working. In 2010, there were 10 confirmed deaths by suicide. Last year, that number dropped to six. This year, there is only one possible suicide to date, which is still pending investigation.
"I think education and outreach and training and this master resilience, it does make an impact," Stephens said. "Encouraging people to get help, to talk about what's going on and to not stay silent, it does help save lives."
Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Moore, garrison command sergeant major, attributed the success the program has had so far this year to the great team behind it, not just workers but also the Soldiers and Families who are themselves part of the prevention process.
"What I come away with from suicide prevention training is that it takes everybody," he said. "It takes the entire community, the entire team, in order to prevent suicide.
"This is something that affects Soldiers across the rank spectrum. So any Soldier who's having an issue, we have more than enough capability out there and more than enough folks for them to go talk to, where we can take care of them."
Moore said talking about suicide may still have a stigma associated with it, but there's no need for that anymore.
"I think that's a communication issue," he said. "I think our leaders on a daily basis are telling our Soldiers that it's OK if you need to talk to somebody. I, personally, have gone and talked to somebody."
After numerous deployments to Iraq, Moore said his wife noticed that he wasn't sleeping well and asked him to speak to someone about it. The command sergeant major took her advice.
"I did that and they helped me and I continue to serve," he said.
While attendance in many of the training sessions and prevention activities is growing, Stephens said, that's ultimately only a means to an end.
"It's wonderful to talk about all the programs, but the hardest thing is when you are hurting or when you feel overwhelmed by what's going on to realize there is help out there," she said. "If you're struggling, talk to a Family member, talk to a battle buddy or call a number, like 1-800-273-TALK, and get some help. It may be difficult today, but there's always a tomorrow."