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    3rd Medical Depoyment Support Command prevents suicide through intervention

    College student and soldier consoles her classmate

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Anthony Mitchell | Spc. Ciera Burts shares her story about a time when she saved a classmate from...... read more read more



    Story by Master Sgt. Serbennia Davis and Sgt. Anthony Mitchell

    3rd Medical Command Deployment Support

    FORT GILLEM, Ga. – “When I got a call on the weekend, I knew something was wrong,” said Maj. Renata Hannah in a very serious tone.

    Maj. Hannah recounted a time when she intervened with one of her soldiers who wanted to commit suicide.

    “I was on my way out of town, but I immediately turned around and kept her on the telephone for 45 minutes until I reached her house,” continued Hannah.

    She had ministered to the soldier for six months prior to the phone call. She could tell that her soldier was in deep emotional distress. Maj. Hannah reminded the soldier of her children and family. She used her training in suicide prevention to avert a disaster. Her actions saved a life on that particular day.

    Recently, 3rd Medical Deployment Support Command conducted an extensive suicide prevention stand down. The purpose was to educate every soldier in effective ways to help a struggling soldier who might contemplate or attempt suicide. Army-wide suicide is a very serious problem that 3rd MDSC leadership is fighting to eliminate. In the stand down meeting, 3rd MDSC soldiers were introduced to startling facts and statistics.

    “There have been more suicides in the Army than combat deaths,” exclaimed 1sg Sgt. Danny Kelley when addressing troops.

    The Department of Defense reported that suicides outnumber combat deaths by a 2-to-1 margin. The DoD also stated that military suicides have risen sharply in 2012 after declining for two years. Particularly frightening is the fact that there are more Army suicides than in the Marines, Navy, and Air Force combined.

    In a written statement, Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta wrote: “We must fight to eliminate the stigma from those with post-traumatic stress [PTSD] and other mental health issues…” He added that commanders “must not tolerate any actions that belittle, haze, humiliate, or ostracize any individual, especially those who require or are responsibly seeking professional services.”

    His statements further cement the gravity of this issue.

    Bombarded by these facts, soldiers have been shocked into tentativeness. Many have begun to open up and share their positive and negative experiences with their units.

    During the suicide prevention stand down, Spc. Ciera Burts recalled, “A college friend contacted me and was threatening to commit suicide.”

    Burts could have easily ignored her, since it had become routine for her friend to say that so frequently. Instead, Spc. Burts stayed with her friend overnight, and took her to see a professional counselor on campus the next day. She really needed to talk with someone about her problems.

    Capt. Dawn Gordon also shared an experience from her childhood. At the age of 12, she intervened when her older cousin threatened to kill herself by taking pills.

    Capt. Gordon stated that, “My cousin thought it was her fault for the break up with her boyfriend.”

    Gordon knew that her cousin was serious and had the means to follow through. She instantly knew that compassion and perseverance were necessary to save her cousin. This occurred long before her military service or any Army training on suicide prevention.

    She ended by saying that, “My cousin’s ex-boyfriend just happened to stop by on that day to check on her and found out that she was about to end her life.”

    Quick thinking, sympathy and empathy saved the life of Capt. Gordon’s cousin.

    Traditionally, soldiers have been criticized and told to "pull yourself up by the boot straps" or "take it like a man or woman" and more commonly, "maintain your military bearing" or "soldiers don’t cry." Today, being resilient to adversity is augmented by the Army. Personal resilience, the ability to manage stress and maintain a positive view of one’s life is a protective factor used to avoid suicide.

    As said by Sgt. Major Glenn Laughlin, “Resilience is an assumption people have of you because of a particular situation.”

    Capt. Walter Level further believes that, “Resilience is toughness, the ability to handle and overcome.”

    Col. Nancy McLaughlin concluded that, “Resilience is coping skills and being able to bounce back.”

    The quality of resilience is intended to be used to develop and strengthen our troops. Unfortunately, there is a negative stigma that is sometimes associated with those who need or want help. This attitude is strongly discouraged by Army leadership.

    “People may think that you are crazy but I shared my experiences with my family,” said Sgt. Maj. Ernest Sanders. He also told the troops that he had attempted to commit suicide many years ago and that he now live to help save lives.

    “If I hadn’t spoken to Col. Risby and another friend of mine, I wouldn’t be here today!” he added.

    The suicide prevention training was designed to identify warning signs and risk factors of suicidal behavior. The session continued with a breakdown into smaller groups for more in depth training. During these sessions, some soldiers became very emotional in their honest sharing of feelings and life experiences.

    Prepared and trained soldiers are able to recognize the warning signs. Noticeable changes in eating and sleeping habits, talking or hinting about suicide, obsession with death, irritability, alcohol or drug use, isolation, giving away possessions, feeling sad depressed or hopeless, finalizing personal affairs and especially when family, co-workers or friends are concerned.

    The 3rd MDSC Chaplain Unit Ministry Team was on hand to assist with soldier’s training. Counseling resources were provided and available to any soldier that would need further help. The military has implemented confidential ways to get quick help to those that need it. Not every soldier is aware of the service available for assistance:

    • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    1 -800-273-TALK (8255) and is available 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
    • Military One Source offers free and confidential assistance at 1-800-342-9647
    • Army Center for Health Promotion Preventive Medicine (CHPPM)
    • Family Readiness Groups (FRG)
    • Military Welfare and Recreation (MWR)
    • Medical Treatment Facility (MTF)
    • National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center
    • Suicide Prevention Action Network (SPAN)
    • Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS)

    Additionally, soldiers should seek local resources when away from their unit or stationed elsewhere. The 3rd MDSC encourages everyone to utilize these resources and to also contact their non-commissioned officer support channel and chain of command.

    The leadership wants all soldiers to know that there are options available to them during a time of distress. They must reach out to their fellow soldiers, chain-of-command, or any of the other available resources.

    “We should do so [intervene] as senior NCOs. It is our duty and responsibility,” said Master Sgt. Andrew Towns.

    Suicide interventions are not always easy things to do, but saving a human life is an extraordinary event with such enormous value that every effort is justified.



    Date Taken: 10.19.2012
    Date Posted: 10.23.2012 00:48
    Story ID: 96588
    Location: FORT GILLEM, GA, US 

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