News: Fort Knox soldiers stand as one for suicide awareness
Story by Sgt. Thomas Duval
FORT KNOX, Ky. — Leaders throughout the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, are diligently working to defeat an enemy that continues to take the lives of soldiers, both on and off the battlefield.
Senior commissioned and non-commissioned officers came together to increase suicide awareness and improve methods to combat stressors during the 3rd IBCT Suicide Stand down Day Sept. 26.
The Department of the Army designated September as Suicide Prevention Month. The theme for this year’s event was “we stand as one”.
To help increase awareness for suicide prevention, the Duke Brigade set aside lengthy slideshows highlighting disturbing statistics and focused teaching its soldiers two simple words; “strength and respect”.
“My theme for our discussions is to get stronger everyday…to be more resilient tomorrow than they are today,” Lt. Col. Dennis Atkins, deputy commanding officer, 3rd IBCT said.
The morning started with a four-mile run to build esprit de corps, followed by a number of interactive classes educating soldiers on the importance of physical fitness, financial preparedness, and healthy living habits.
“We want soldiers to understand they have many resources within their unit to assist if they are having issues… no one should suffer in silence,” Atkins said.
One of the resources Atkins and his staff rely heavily on to combat suicide is the battle-buddy system.
“I think the Army has done a tremendous job to provide resources throughout the force to combat suicide,” Atkins said. “I am convinced in the power of the battle-buddy system. The current generation of soldiers connects very well to their peers and seems willing to share information regarding how they feel.”
While most of the Army focused on the alarming statistics the Duke staff focused on positive ways to prevent suicide.
“This is not a day to think about suicide it’s a day to acknowledge it and learn how to be resilient and overcome situations that may lead to those [suicidal] thoughts,” said Sgt. 1st Class Cornelius Whitaker, operations non-commissioned officer in charge for 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 3rd IBCT. “Every problem is temporary, it will pass… there’s no stop or rewind on life so soldiers need to enjoy the time they have.”
After attending the all-day training event the 3rd IBCT soldiers separated into their small squads to discuss what they learned. During this time the leaders read a message from Col. William Ostlund, commander 3rd IBCT, highlighting the importance of “strength and respect.”
“I seek to ensure each Duke soldier is stronger and better tomorrow than today-I don’t seek for Duke soldiers to merely ‘bounce back’ or return to their original shape after being bent,” Ostlund wrote. “I further seek soldiers to respect themselves and others-serve with honor.”
Together, Atkins and his staff plan to make suicide awareness and prevention a yearlong mission and will work to eliminate the misconception soldiers often have about the “stigma” associated with seeking help.
“I want to tell any soldier, regardless of rank, it is OK to seek help,” Atkins said. “Seeking help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength and willingness to get better… this message cannot be communicated enough.”