By Jeff Schogol
Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Saturday, January 31, 2009
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Army has ordered a servicewide “stand-down” for two to four hours of suicide prevention training, Army vice chief of staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli announced Thursday.
Commanders will be given latitude to hold the training any time between Feb. 15 and March 15.
The decision came in the wake of Thursday’s announcement that soldier suicides are at a 30-year high.
Traditionally, the Army’s suicide rate has been below that of the general public, but now they are roughly equal, Army officials said Thursday.
Between 2007 and 2008, the number of soldiers who took their lives increased from 115 to 128, and 15 more deaths in 2008 are being investigated as potential suicides.
Afterwards, all soldiers will also get a “chain-teach” on suicide prevention, in which leaders teach their subordinates all the way down the chain of command, Army officials said.
“We believe that behavior is something that we must get at: The behavior of the soldier that may be thinking about this but not willing to talk about it because of potential stigmas,” said Reserve Maj. Gen. John Hawkins, deputy chief of Army G-1.
The training soldiers will receive includes group training in two scenarios: One about a soldier is contemplating suicide, and the other about a soldier who sees warning signs in his battle buddy, said Col. Thomas Languirand, of the Army’s Suicide Prevention Program.
“It’s a learning tool: You can make the wrong decisions and it will bring you to an outcome that is not desirable, but it has tips along the ways and it can bring the group back to the right decision-making tree that we’re looking for,” Languirand said.
Later, soldiers will see a video with vignettes about soldiers who have been brought back from the brink of suicide, and those who have attempted suicide, said Hank Minitrez, a spokesman for the Army G-1’s Human Resources Directorate.
The vignettes also include stories from senior leaders about how suicides have affected them, Minitrez said.
All soldiers, including those downrange, will be required to go through the suicide prevention training, he said.
Army Recruiting Command already ordered a one-day stand-down in February following a spate of suicides in a Houston-based recruiting battalion, according to Army Times.
And the United States Military Academy has ramped up its suicide prevention efforts after two cadets committed suicide since December, said academy spokesman Col. Bryan Hilferty.
The Washington Post first reported on Monday that the academy had asked for a team from the Army surgeon general’s office to investigate the recent suicides and two other suicide attempts.
The academy’s superintendent also ordered everyone on post to take suicide prevention classes by the end of January, and the commandant spoke to every cadet personally, Hilferty said.
Both cadets and civilians have been issued suicide prevention cards, and hundreds of suicide prevention posters have been displayed around campus, he said.
Army officials attribute multiple causes to why soldiers commit suicide, but they are at a loss to explain why the suicide rate is going up.
“Part of the reality that we all know is we have been working hard as an Army for a very long time,” said Col. Elspeth Ritchie, of the Army surgeon general’s office. “We’ve heard Gen. [George] Casey and others talk about being out of balance. We know we’re working very hard, very fast. What we don’t know — none of us has a silver bullet, none of us have the answers. If we did, we would have solved it a while ago.”
-- submitted by Patti Woodard