By Jennifer Mattson, NCO JournalSeptember 5, 2012
The number of suicides has dramatically increased since the start of the United States' involvement in Afghanistan in 2001.
In fiscal year 2009, the Army reported 239 suicides across the reserve and active components of the Army. In that same time, 1,713 Soldiers attempted suicide. In fiscal year 2010, the number of suicides increased. But as the Army has stepped up its suicide prevention training, those numbers have slowly dropped.
In an effort to continue to see those numbers decrease, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III has ordered a suicide "stand down" day, scheduled for Sept. 27, at installations across the Army.
Many factors contribute to Soldiers considering suicide, according to the Army Health Promotion Risk Reduction Suicide Prevention Report 2010 published by Gen. Peter Chiarelli, then the vice chief of staff of the Army. Soldiers, more than the American population at large, often condone or participate in high-risk behavior. In addition, with multiple deployments during the past 11 years, many Soldiers and their families feel the stress and strain of combat.
Staff Sgt. Timothy Warden, an infantryman with 1st Battalion, 393rd Infantry Regiment, 479th Field Artillery Brigade, Division West, First U.S. Army, used his suicide prevention training Oct. 9, 2011, when he recognized warning signs in a fellow Soldier.
"We were at the 24/7 Shoppette, and I was getting ready to go to the range," Warden said. "An individual approached me and started talking about how it was over, how he was done. I asked if he was getting out or what he was doing, and he said, 'No, I'm done -- if you know what I mean.'"
When Warden recognized the despair in the Soldier's voice, the alcohol on his breath and the cut marks on his wrists, he stepped outside to call the military police. Knowing such signs is important for all Soldiers and NCOs to help prevent suicides, he said. When a Soldier feels hopelessness or helplessness, focuses only on the negative, or abuses alcohol or other substances that Soldier needs help.
"We need to be aware of our Soldiers and pay attention," Warden said. "I could have easily walked out and not paid attention, but I noticed the signs. We all need to be aware of what to look for."
In his report, Chiarelli outlined the stressors in the Army that can lead to suicide and how NCOs can help Soldiers cope with those stressors.
"We must identify our Soldiers who are at-risk, mitigate their stress and, if necessary, personally intervene to assist them," Chiarelli wrote. "By working together, we can provide holistic care for help-seeking Soldiers while acting firmly to reduce the high-risk population."
In his visits with Soldiers and NCOs around the Army, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III has emphasized what needs to be done to prevent suicide.
"It is a devastating loss when one of our own dies from suicide," Chandler said in his suicide prevention and stigma reduction message video. "We continue to implement programs, policies and services aimed at raising awareness, reducing risk and providing support for those who need help."
Preventing suicide goes along with being a good leader, knowing your Soldiers and ensuring that they're taken care of, Chandler said.
"I'm calling on our noncommissioned officers to make a difference," Chandler said. "As the backbone of our Army, you are in the best position to be in the first line of defense."