JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – It goes without saying that a healthy force is a ready force; for this reason, it is the theme for this year’s suicide awareness month. As suicide rates within the ranks continue to climb, the Army is changing its approaches to suicide awareness, prevention and intervention, starting with a Suicide Stand Down Day, which was carried out Army-wide on Thursday.
Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, ordered the stand down, as a way to empower leadership to prevent further loss of life due to suicide.The stand down will also focus on how to improve the health and discipline of the force and reducing the stigma associated with seeking care for behavioral health issues.
The last Army-wide suicide stand down was conducted in 2009, and utilized a standard set of training materials. This year, however, Austin encouraged leaders to shape their training as they best saw fit for their Soldiers. And with that guidance, a week before officially activating a new division, Maj. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza filed his Soldiers into Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s French Theater, Sept. 24, for personal message before starting week-long, interactive suicide training.
“Suicide is not just an Army issue. It’s endemic in the nation…it effects senior officers— from the 4-star general rank all the way down to the youngest private. I’m not a big proponent of standing down. Standing down, to me, is a defensive posture. I like to stand up to suicide. I like to stand up for life,” said Lanza, the commanding general of the soon-to-be reactivated 7th Infantry Division.
Nearly 150 of the division’s soldiers listened to Lanza explain the importance of the training and, in a complete 180-degree turn from typical Army classroom training, there were no PowerPoint slides to read. Lanza said he steered away from slides because a message from the heart would resonate better and give more credibility to his own experiences.
“There’s a stigma (in the Army) about asking for help, and what I’m going to tell you today, standing here in front of you as your commanding general, is there’s no stigma with me,” he said. “Someone is going to leave here today and acknowledge ‘Hey, I have an issue and I need some help.’”
When Soldiers do need help, there is no shortage of options available to help them. Currently, there are 246 behavioral specialists on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Lanza told his Soldiers. But he stressed the most important part of the programs are the Soldiers and Families who attend them.
“No one here is immune (to suicide)…Your Family members and kids are not immune to it,” he stressed. “The programs here won’t work unless people seek them out. Without your personal buy-in, it doesn’t work.”
According to Vicki Duffy, JBLM’s suicide prevention officer, the Vice Chief of Staff for the Army reports there have been 239 Army suicides since Sept. 23.
“A veteran takes his life every 80 minutes, and Soldier’s are taking their lives at the rate of one every 36 hours,” said Duffy, who provided additional training to the 7th Inf. Div. Soldiers, following Lanza’s remarks.
Duffy provides training to units across JBLM by using a new, interactive one-on-one, discussion-based approach. She reminded the Soldiers there is help across JBLM, as well resources off post, such as Military One Source and Army One Source.
Regardless of the avenue of help a Soldier takes, Lanza and Duffy said it’s important to realize that seeking help isn’t a sign of weakness.
“We all have issues in our lives… Everyone here is wired differently for resiliency, so how do you balance (the problems) in your life?” Lanza asked. His response— stand up.
“You can save your buddy’s life and your own life, if you’re willing to stand up to suicide.”
For more information on Suicide Prevention and training on JBLM, contact Vicki Duffy at (253) 477-0257.