News: US, Japanese forces discuss ways to reduce suicide
Story by Staff Sgt. Miriam Espinoza
CAMP HIGASHI-CHITOSE, Japan - Some lessons can only be learned the hard way. I Corps soldiers participating in Yama Sakura 65 and their Japanese counterparts hope suicide prevention isn’t one of them.
YS 65, a two-week bilateral exercise which teamed I Corps with members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Northern Army, was primarily focused on dominating a digital battlefield in defense of the northern island of Hokkaido.
But on Dec. 9 service members from both forces stepped away from their computers to address the resiliency issues that have become an increasing area of concern for the JGSDF.
During their two-hour meeting, members of I Corps’ senior staff, including the chaplain and the personnel section’s chief of operations presented briefings to, and led discussions with, Japanese leaders about three programs: sexual harassment and assault prevention, comprehensive soldier and family fitness and suicide prevention. All three programs fall under the Army’s Ready and Resilient Campaign.
“The whole purpose of developing a resiliency program is to help people be stronger on the front end so they won’t have as many problems when encountering life’s difficulties or crises,” said I Corps deputy chaplain Lt. Col. David Shoffner.
The U.S. military learned lessons about the need for the resiliency training the hard way – when in 2006 the number of service member suicides began rising dramatically until hitting a high of 310 in 2009 and leveling off for two years. Another spike – to 349 – in 2012 led the U.S. military to concentrate resources on programs to help service members better cope with hardship.
Now the Japanese are hoping to draw on the experiences of their long-time partners and allies.
“We are constantly working with our American counterparts to learn from their extensive combat experience and to see how we can do things differently,” said Northern Army personnel director Col. Yuichi Horie.
While JGSDF members have not experienced the number of deployments or combat situations faced by their American counterparts, their increasing roles in humanitarian aid and disaster relief situations and peacekeeping operations have increased the level of stress on Japanese service members.
In recent years Japanese forces have assisted with massive earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear reactor meltdowns at home and typhoon relief efforts abroad. They also currently have personnel involved in peacekeeping operations in South Sudan.
While much of what was included in the Dec. 9 session is already covered by JGSDF resiliency training, there were a few lessons, such as establishing buddy teams, Horie said could prove valuable.
“I have enjoyed and learned a lot from this discussion,” Horie said. “Some things that are crucial are developing commanders through training and teaching Soldiers about suicide and how to identify the signs.”