By Jon Connor, ASC Public AffairsOctober 3, 2012
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- The Army Sustainment Command conducted a variety of events in its "stand down" day Sept. 27 with the ultimate goal of preventing suicide amongst the force.
Led by Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Chuck Rizer, ASC chaplain, suicide prevention was in the minds of the workforce all day as awareness, education, and understanding were addressed to a situation that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta described to the House Armed Services Committee in July as an "epidemic" throughout the U.S. military.
Despite strong efforts to reduce the rising tide of suicide the past few years, July was the worst month on record in 15 years for the Total Army with 38 suspected suicides.
Fittingly, September is Army Suicide Prevention Month and the Army vice chief of staff, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, directed that a timeout was needed to address the whole force -- Soldiers, civilians and family members.
The year's theme is "A Healthy Force is a Ready Force." The theme for the actual stand down was "Shoulder to Shoulder, We Stand Up for Life."
Just-released Army figures for August show a smaller amount, but still alarming, 25 potential suicides within the entire Army. In 2012, Army statistics indicate more Soldiers in the Total Army probably committed suicide than were killed in combat in Afghanistan.
This was the first Army-wide suicide stand down since 2009.
"It's never just one reason why someone commits suicide," explained Rizer, "but here are some of the current factors: Loneliness, uncertainty, decline in personal faith, and a spike in unemployment.
"The higher preponderance of technological devices that keep us from face-to-face interaction which breeds loneliness; a steady rise in divorce and unfaithfulness leads people toward uncertainty and loneliness," Rizer said, and "a decline in faithful and regular participation in a Community of faith which causes inner turmoil and external conflict."
The Army subscribes to the ACE intervention mantra of "Ask your buddy; Care for your buddy; and Escort your buddy." The "Ask" refers to asking someone a very tough, blunt question: "Are you thinking of killing yourself?"
Rizer said while this question is important, giving one's time and care is critical.
"If someone is contemplating suicide, it is impactful to ask the question. To have the question asked them directly requires a direct answer. The one contemplating suicide could answer honestly or they could try to hide their intentions," Rizer said.
"Even more important than asking that difficult question is to truly care for the one who is hurting. If one honestly cares for the hurting individual, perhaps the hurting one will share his/her story, which could eventually reveal that they are thinking of suicide," he said. "Time is a precious gift to someone who is hurting. It takes time to listen. Taking the time to listen may be what it takes to get an honest answer."
At RIA, the day started with a suicide prevention walk or memory walk -- for Soldiers, civilians and family members alike at 6:30 a.m. Then, at 8 a.m., Brig. Gen. John F. Wharton, commanding general, ASC, gave a safety "stand down" message for about 20 minutes at the Baylor Conference Room in Building 103.
After this, simultaneous presentations were given in buildings 103, 110, 350 lasting up to one hour. Two presentations were given on suicide prevention, resiliency, surviving suicide, teenage and elderly suicide, and SHARP -- the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Program.
At noon, a second memorial walk was held. The memory walks offered participants the opportunity to reflect on those they know, or know of, who have committed suicide.
The morning walk drew about 25 participants, and the noon walk attracted approximately 50 Soldiers, civilians and senior leaders.
"I sure appreciate you all coming out," Rizer told the participants during the noontime event.
"The Army directed that Sept. 27 would be Suicide Awareness Prevention Day. We're really not just checking a block. I really believe suicide prevention is not just a possibility and as an Army we are going to make it a reality," the ASC chaplain told walkers. "As we go along on this walk there are going to be different stations along the way. At the first one I will talk about the reasons for suicide and then we will have other individuals touch on other topics."
The half-mile, 35-minute walks featured five stations, each with a specific topic. A representative at each station briefly discussed the topic and encouraged walkers to ponder how the topic affects them personally. One station featured a "Memory Board" where participants were encouraged to write the name of someone they know, or know of, who has committed suicide.
"I think this is a nice event. It gives you a little time away from work to actually think about the subject," said Kris Leinicke, director, Rock Island Arsenal Museum. "I've sat in on some of Chaplain Rizer's presentations before on suicide prevention and he does a very good job, but this actually gets you focused on the topic a little bit more rather than just sitting in place. I also like the stations along the way because it allows you to think about the message from the previous station as you make your way along to the next."
Chaplain (Maj.) Scott Fluegel, Joint Munitions Command, assisted Rizer, and shared with walkers the importance of asking if someone is thinking of committing suicide.
"Everybody needs a battle buddy, needs someone in the next cubicle, or a co-worker to rely on. Everyone must be willing to ask the 'S' Question," Fluegel said.
"Sometimes even chaplains are afraid to ask that. We're scared because we don't like what we might hear or we might think we're going to give them that idea," Fluegel said. "Well I tell you, you're not going to give them that idea. What they will say is that 'You really care about me because you asked that really hard question.' "
Rizer said that there are other important questions to ask as well.
"After one has taken the time to listen carefully, additional questions could include: How's your marriage and Family life? How's your personal integrity? Are you being faithful to your spouse? How's it going at work? Do you feel appreciated by your boss/supervisor/fellow employees? Are you bullied? How are you taking care of your emotional needs? Are you drinking more than you normally do? How's your spiritual life? Are you consistent with your faith values?" Rizer said.
Throughout the day, beginning at 7 a.m., computer pop-up messages were displayed every hour. The pop-ups included links to suicide prevention web sites and informative videos. Video screens with suicide prevention messages ran all day on monitors in the hallways.
Information tables were set up in RIA's three cafeterias and staffed by the Employee Assistance Program, in coordination with the Red Cross and Vera French Mental Health Center of Davenport, Iowa.
The suicide stand down is the first phase of the Army's prevention plan. Phase two will continue with more presentations and training programs.
Rizer said a team effort made the day possible, with two sets of teams doing the work -- planning and conducting.
One team worked on getting the message out to the entire RIA community through non-emergency pop-up announcements displayed on computers, suicide prevention videos on hall monitors, information at tables in the three cafeterias, signs over the marquees and a suicide prevention/awareness website.
This team was made up of personnel from the ASC Public Affairs, G-1 (Personal) and G-3 (Operations) sections, the RIA Garrison office, Employee Assistance Program office, the Morale, Welfare and Recreation office and representatives from the Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center, JMC, Army Contracting Command, First Army, Community Based Warrior Transition Unit, and the Corps of Engineers. The other team was made up of noncommissioned officers from the offices of the ASC G-3, Chaplain, Surgeon, and a Master Resiliency trainer.
"The short-term goal was to get the message out to the entire RIA community that suicide is a national issue, but that we can find strength and hope together," Rizer said. "The long-term goal is that individuals will reach out with compassion to their Families, friends and colleagues with genuine concern and deliberate kindness.
"I'm pleased with the overall suicide stand down day. At first glance, and from spontaneous comments, there was a general positive appreciation for the various events. And God blessed us with wonderful weather," Rizer said.
Suicide Prevention Resources:
• Emergency - 911
• Military Crisis Line - 1-800-273-TALK (8255) - Press 1
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
• Military One Source - 1-800-342-9647
• The Defense Center of Excellence (DCoE) - 1-866-966-1020
• Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline - 1-800-984-8523
• CONUS DSN: 421-3700
• OCONUS DSN: 312-421-3700
• Army G-1(Personnel), Suicide Prevention website: www.preventsuicide.army.mil
• Real Warriors Campaign
(Galen Putnam, ASC Public Affairs, contributed to this article.)