News: Leaders take strong stance on suicide prevention
Story by Sgt. Amanda Tucker
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - It’s the word you do not want to say or hear: suicide. With nine confirmed suicides on Fort Bragg, the installation now has the most suicides of any Army installation this year. Fort Bragg leaders hosted a media round table, Sept. 20, to discuss the increasing rate of suicide and the improved suicide-prevention programs that leaders are using to train service members, family members and civilians.
Lt. Col. Michael Baumeister, deputy commander for the 82nd Sustainment Brigade and Whitefish Bay, Wis., native, shared his experience as a young officer from 1992 to 1996. Within one month, he had lost two soldiers to suicide. As a battalion commander, he had also lost a soldier to suicide.
"The integrated approach by all the commanders, behavioral health experts and chaplains is something that didn’t exist 18 years ago,” said Baumeister.
Soldiers are now trained to recognize the signs of suicidal behavior. Some can be as subtle as a loss of appetite, changes in behavior or lack of interest in previous hobbies.
Soldiers are trained at the lowest level with Master Resilience Training, provided “Ask, Care and Escort” cards and are afforded a two-day seminar for Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training.
“We have built a great coalition throughout Fort Bragg in trying to educate our service members, our Family members and civilians on suicide prevention,” said Col. Chad McRee, Fort Bragg Suicide Prevention Program Manager and Eaton Rapids, Mich., native. “People are seeing the signs amongst their buddies and are intervening.”
As part of the Army’s education efforts, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III ordered an Army-wide “suicide stand-down” for Sept. 27. Units conducted more training on the resources available for soldiers, touching on the theme that soldiers seeking help should not fear a negative impact on their military career.
“There was a stigma by fear of the unknown,” said Master Sgt. Eric W. Brooks, a soldier who contemplated suicide in 2004. “I was thinking, ‘will I lose my security clearance; will I be dismissed from government service.’ I got to the point that life was so painful, that those things didn’t matter if I was going to die anyway.”
Brooks described depression as a debilitating physical pain and a downward spiral. After seeking help, he claims his history with depression has allowed him to be more in tune with subordinates, peers and leaders displaying the same symptoms he was experiencing.
McRee described the mentality as a cultural shift. “We want to change that mindset that if you feel like you're broken, that there's no other choice than just to discard yourself," said McRee. “Today, we have a lot of individuals who grew up believing if you break your VCR, you put it in the trashcan. When I grew up, if you broke your VCR, you took it to the store and got it fixed.”
The Army has made it easier for soldiers to find help by providing confidential counseling through chaplains, military life consultants, and Military OneSource. These venues keep all information confidential, other than legal obligations, to report indications of suicidal thoughts or intents, domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, violence or illegal activity.
Suicide prevention in the Army is now more than just a program. It is a comprehensive mission to keep soldiers safe at home.