By Sara E. Martin, Army Flier Staff WriterSeptember 13, 2012
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (September 13, 2012) -- Army Substance Abuse Program's campaign to celebrate life kicked off with two tournaments that brought organizations from across post together to raise suicide awareness in the Army last week.
Suicide is a major concern of the Army, and ASAP's focus is to celebrate life with activities that are fun, said Denise Clark, risk reduction program coordinator, adding that by staying active people can improve their quality of life, making them happier.
"We all just want to encourage any Soldiers who need help to actively seek it out and for commanders to allow Soldiers to receive care when they need it," she said.
The first session of the first round of the bowling tournament was deemed a success by Ron Cook, manager of Rucker Lanes, Sept. 6.
"All of our lanes but five are full, we are so happy with the outcome and it's only the first session. The best thing is the sheer amount of support the cause is receiving. There are two teams from the fire department, several unit teams, a team from the police department and even Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation has a team," he said.
Suicide affects so many parts of a base, said Cook, and it impinges on the overall mission, the Families, the friends, the units, and his team at Rucker Lanes just wanted to strike it out to the best of their abilities.
Sgt. Maj. Lepharis Baker and Lt. Col. Ron Ells, 1st Battalion, 212th Aviation Regiment, recently experienced the tragedy of suicide, so the tournament meant a lot to them.
"Suicide is one of our biggest problems in the Army right now, so it is important for active Soldiers to take a stand against suicide. We need to get this stopped and it is so encouraging to see so many people here wearing yellow ribbons supporting the cause," said Baker.
"It's great that we have venues like the golf tournament and bowling to talk about suicide awareness. I have four members of my battalion out here for a good cause and it develops unit cohesion," said Ells, the battalion commander.
The stigma of seeking help for mental health has plagued the Army for many years, but many Soldiers and Army employees see the stigma washing away as understanding has spread throughout the military and as people become more comfortable with seeking help, he added.
"What might used to have been seen as a stigma about seeking help in past years is being moved away from. We are protecting the privacy of Soldiers and we are acknowledging the stress that is to be expected with 10 years of war. So the old stigma of someone being a weak Soldier because they seek help is gone and the difficult part is getting that out to the Soldiers at every level so that they understand that. It's more important right now to take care of each other and look after one another in terms of mental health," said Ells.
"Soldiers are trained to not feel weakness and feeling mentally weak can be very embarrassing for them. It can be a hard thing for them to admit, but they can be helped if they show the strength that it takes to admit they need help," said David Unsicker, business manager of Silver Wings Golf Course.
Col. Stuart J. McRae, the garrison commander, visited and gave a pep talk to the 76 participants in the golf tournament telling them to recognize symptoms in people and if they did recognize the symptoms to take an active part in helping.
"Don't just tell your buddy that they need to go get help because they seem depressed or suicidal. Escort that person to help," he said.
The team approach is what was conveyed by the different events hosted by ASAP, and Clark believes that by coming together as teams outside of work Soldiers learn how to fully work together and depend each other.
The challenges that Soldiers face were recognized at the golf tournament and participants said that it is unfortunate that Soldiers have to fight an internal war after so many years of conflict.
"It's one of those things where you have to go out and stop what you are doing to reflect and relax in a game with friends and coworkers. You can relax enough to maybe open up and talk about things like suicide. As an Army it is our responsibility to look after [young returning Soldiers]," said Wade Becnel, deputy director of the Directorate of Simulations.