FORT LEE, Va. – Soldiers, civilian employees and family members here and across the Army will participate in a Sept. 27 suicide prevention stand down to help build resilience and reduce suicides throughout the force. The stand down is a highlight of the Army’s expanded Suicide Prevention Month observance, which is themed “Shoulder to Shoulder, We Stand Up For Life.”
In 2011, 283 soldiers from the active, guard and reserve components took their own lives. These soldiers included officers and enlisted; those deployed, non-deployed, and those who have not deployed. Army civilians and family members also took their own lives.
As of Aug. 10 this year, 191 soldiers have taken their own lives, prompting an increased effort across the Army to draw attention to ways to help fellow soldiers and to encourage those who need help to seek it.
Locally, U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) and the Fort Lee garrison are providing numerous opportunities to learn more about suicide prevention.
Throughout September, units will have information fairs featuring representatives from Kenner Army Health Clinic (KAHC) and the post chaplains, who will focus on ways to seek help. Suicide prevention information is being incorporated into regularly scheduled post events, such as the Sept. 11 commemorative breakfast at the Post Field House. CASCOM units have also scheduled prayer breakfasts the week of Sept. 27 to increase awareness.
The last Army-wide suicide prevention stand down took place in 2009. During that event, the Army used the “chain teach” approach to push information down to soldiers, said Walter O. Morales, chief of the Army Suicide Prevention Program.
“For example, the Army required that specific training materials would be used and specific training requirements met, although some supplemental training was allowed, such as leader-led discussions,” he said.
Morales said the stand down will be different this time. “Activities and training will be less prescriptive,” he said. “Commanders now have the flexibility to assess the needs of their units and customize the training and activities.”
On an installation-wide level, Fort Lee is hosting a morning run and Maj. Gen. Larry D. Wyche, CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general, is set to directly address troops before that event and during training seminars throughout the day. Wyche will also end the day by speaking at a retreat ceremony from 4:30-5 p.m.
The unit-based sessions planned here throughout the day will incorporate a variety of video presentations, as well as speakers from the Army Substance Abuse Program, Chaplain Corps, Army Community Service and KAHC.
In preparation for the stand down, and to continue the reinforcement of suicide and sexual assault prevention measures, pocket cards for soldiers, prevention posters and local contact phone number stickers are being distributed across post.
Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training is another local education and awareness initiative. KAHC is hosting two ASIST sessions in September to help prepare caregivers from all backgrounds to provide suicide first aid. The two-day training sessions also help participants explore their experiences and attitudes about suicide, develop a better understanding of the person at risk and learn how to use suicide first aid to meet a person’s needs, as well as build awareness and enhance existing skills.
The Army-prescribed goal of the installation-wide suicide prevention information campaign is to empower individuals to be proactive and intervene, reduce stigma, provide resources and tools, and ensure members of the Fort Lee community know where to turn for information and help.