By J.D. LeipoldSeptember 28, 2012
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 27, 2012) -- Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno opened the service-wide suicide prevention stand down Thursday morning by announcing that 237 Soldiers have potentially taken their lives so far this year and that the Army will step up its resilience training to combat the problem.
"I think one of the most important things we want to do is to start thinking about how we build Soldier and family resilience, so we're going to establish a Ready and Resilient Campaign plan to build the capabilities within our Soldiers to solve problems on their own and to help families deal with numerous stresses that are put upon them," Odierno said.
Addressing the Army staff of 150 general officers and senior civilian leaders at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., the chief said the Army lost 283 Soldiers to suicide in 2011, but the rate in 2012 is higher than at this time last year.
"I equate that to a whole bunch of infantry squads. That's what I think about. How many infantry squads is that? A lot ... a lot," he said. "These are 283 Soldiers who raised their hands, who wanted to join an institution that is greater than themselves and they probably joined to prove themselves, maybe to move forward with their lives or maybe they just wanted to fight for their country; 283 are too many and the loss of one Soldier is one too many, no matter what the cause may be."
Odierno said that before solutions to the suicide problem can be found, the Army needs to answer "why" are these suicides happening and is suicide symptomatic of a larger problem?
"In my mind, that's what we have to think about every day," he said, adding that he'd held a video teleconference Sept. 26 with almost all his commanders to discuss what they're currently doing to beat suicide and what their plans are long-term.
He said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, who is leading the effort on behalf of the Army to drive the trend in suicides down, traveled to installations Army-wide to meet with commanders, leaders, Soldiers, Families and behavioral health experts. And, he has acknowledged that while he is very encouraged by the efforts underway and the best practices found at different installations, there is still more work to be done.
"We will not stop because this is about the lives and the well-being of our most important asset: our people," he explained.
One of those best practices is the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program or CSF2 launched three years ago. The program teaches Soldiers how to build resilience and develop life-coping skills, and enhance their performance by learning to be more self-aware, optimistic and empathetic, as well as, how to develop strengths of character and connection.
Earlier this year the program conducted a pilot master resilience trainer course that included 32 Army spouses. Plans are being developed to include squad leaders at the sergeant level as master resilience trainers, or MRTs, and up the requirement of one MRT per battalion to one per company.
While the resilience training course doesn't specifically address suicide, the course has proven effective at reducing the symptoms of depression, anxiety and other behavioral problems that can trigger suicide.
Odierno went on to say, "Secondly, I want to figure out how we can improve what I call command climate with regard to taking care of our Soldiers."
He added that he was confident senior leaders down to battalion commanders understood the fear problem.
"They want to create a command climate where people can come forward and admit they have problems looking to get help, but we still have a cultural problem down to the lowest level where people fear retaliation; they fear, 'what are the impacts on career if I come forward and admit I have a problem?'"
The chief said the third thing he wants to look at is the way society communicates today through Twitter, Facebook and the Internet in general because he believes those methods cause isolation. Isolation means Soldiers lose that face-to-face contact that is so essential to the job they do, he said.
After Odierno's opening remarks, the senior leaders were taken through an overview of CSF2 by its director, Col. Ken Riddle, to better acquaint them with how the program works and its future plans to include the Army civilian workforce.
Karen Reivich, co-director of the University of Pennsylvania Resiliency Project -- which teaches about 180 Soldiers every other month to become master resilience trainers -- followed with a synopsis of MRT training and how skills are learned to gain mental toughness and build stronger relationships.
The vice chief concluded the four hour senior leader stand-down training session by adding his thoughts on the importance of leader involvement in solving the suicide problem.
"This is an American issue and not just a military issue," Austin said, adding that the last count on the country's suicides per the Center for Disease Control goes back to 2010 when almost 38,000 people took their own lives.
"That's a lot of people; that's an American issue," he said. "We have to remain focused on this and we have to drive the trend in the other direction and we have to work together with the rest of the great minds in the country to figure out what's going on not only in the military, but in society at large."
Austin said the Army wants to continue to partner with academic institutions and the scientific community to really understand the phenomena more.
"We have a window of opportunity here to make our Army better and stronger if we focus on the right things and resiliency is one of the right things that will make the Army stronger and more effective," he said.