By Staff Sgt. Keith AndersonOctober 1, 2012
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Oct. 1, 2012) -- More than 500 Soldiers and civilians from U.S. Army North gathered Sept. 27 at Evans Auditorium to participate in an Army-wide suicide safety stand down to focus on the military's greatest asset - it's military and civilian team members.
The mandated stand down follows a spike in the number of self-inflicted deaths, with 187 suspected suicides this year alone; this included 38 suspected suicides in the month of July alone, which is the worst month on record in the Army.
"This is an enormously serious issue, and one our nation and our Army have to deal with," said Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, commanding general, Army North, and senior commander, Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis. "This isn't a one-day event This is the beginning of a change in our Army."
Attendees heard from guest speakers who lost someone to suicide, including Maj. Phillip Lenz, Provost Marshal Office, Army North, who shared his experience dealing with the death of his brother, Jeff, in December 2010.
Lenz said that he had to try to understand why his brother took his own life. He said everyone had pieces of the puzzle, and that the warning signs were there, but his brother didn't discuss everything he was going through, and that friends and family members didn't talk to each other about Jeff's situation.
"He never gave anyone the full puzzle," said Lenz. Health problems, debt, the loss of a close friend and the loss of his business were all contributors.
"Look for identifiers and telegraphed signals," Lenz advised his gathered teammates.
Those that get noticed get helped, and the best help often comes from friends and loved ones, said Lt. Col. Zoltan Krompecher, commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, Army North.
"You'll hear a lot of statistics today, but here's one that struck me: in 80 percent of the cases where suicidal thoughts were prevented from becoming suicide attempts, it was Soldiers, family members and friends who intervened and helped -- not necessarily mental health professionals," said Krompecher.
Army noncommissioned officers and leaders need to stay involved in the lives of their subordinates and peers, said Caldwell.
"Engage people in a positive way," said Caldwell. "People forget about giving each other grace. We are all one big team. We take care of each other."
Caldwell said that during the last decade of warfare, some of the regular Army mechanisms like routine counseling as a tool for professional development have become abbreviated into event-orientated "negative" counselings.
"Let's get back to some of our time-honored traditions," said Caldwell. "The intent of counseling is to make you a better person. Leaders, grow and improve your subordinates, don't 'grade' them."
After the meeting in the auditorium, Army North personnel got the opportunity to break off into sections and watch interactive videos and engage in candid discussions about recognizing and responding to suicidal intentions and ideations.
The training stressed the importance of taking the time to get to know those around you, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder.
"I cannot overemphasize how important this issue is to me," wrote Gen. Raymond Odierno, chief of staff, U.S. Army, in a memo sent out Armywide. "Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy to our families, to our units and to our Army."
Odierno stressed the importance of applying the day's training, and of growing a more resilient force.
"We are a resilient Army, and we are committed to building our individual and collective strength -- physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually and within our families," wrote Odierno. "You must continue to refine and apply the resiliency skills you learn."