USASMA highlights Suicide Stand Down Day with visit from Army Provost Marshal general
USASMA Public Affairs:
In an Army-wide effort to focus on the problem of suicide, Sept. 27 was designated by the Army’s top leaders as “Suicide Stand Down Day.” The Sergeants Major Academy took a serious stance on the topic and invited the provost marshal general of the Army, Maj. Gen. David Quantock, to address students in Class 63 of the Sergeants Major Course.
“This topic is NCO business,” said Quantock. “Everyone from team leaders to squad leaders must take action and make it a priority, and you as senior NCOs must watch for the telltale signs of possible suicide in your Soldiers.”
Quantock’s address and much of what he and his accompanying team discussed focused on information complied into the “Gold Book” released earlier this year and formally titled the “Army 2020 Generating Health & Discipline in the Force – Ahead of the Strategic Reset.” The 178 pages of the Gold Book is an updated version of its predecessor the “Red Book” published in 2010 and takes an in-depth look into Army studies and reports that have examined topics such as behavioral health issues and disciplinary problems throughout the force.
There are four chapters to the Gold Book, which include an introduction in the first chapter followed by the health of the force and the population of those most at-risk discussed in the second chapter.
In a detailed slide entitled “At-Risk and High-Risk Perspectives,” Quantock explained to Class 63 students that Soldiers fitting the perspectives included recipients of outpatient behavioral health counseling, Soldiers taking prescription drugs, criminal offenders, drug and alcohol offenders, and those who have already attempted suicide. Chapter 3 of the book delves into the discipline of the force and its high-risk population, with Chapter 4 addressing surveillance, detection and response to at-risk and high-risk populations.
“We have to get back to the business of knowing our Soldiers,” said Quantock. “When I hear about an NCO giving his Soldiers their safety briefing via Twitter, that’s a problem. … We need 24/7 leadership.”
The Gold Book focuses heavily on informing and educating leaders about specific characteristics of the force, assessing health and disciplinary programs and policy, and finding a healthy balance of perception when it comes to health and discipline. While improvements have been made over the years to provide access and treatment for Soldiers with disciplinary or mental health issues, the Army’s suicide numbers speak for themselves.
“2011 was a record year for suicides in our Army, but the suicide rate for calendar year 2012 is even higher,” said Quantock. “And we all know that even one loss of life to suicide is one too many.”
Brig. Gen. Mary Link of the Army Nurse Corps, with 29 years of service in both the active-duty Army and Army Reserve, also spoke to students. She said everything that leads a person to make the decision to end their life is related.
“If someone isn’t getting proper health care, if there’s discipline issues, substance abuse, personal issues and a stigma attached to seeking out counseling – these are all things that put them at risk,” said Link.
She said there has to be a connection between health issues and discipline. Just because someone may be suffering on the inside doesn’t give them license to commit crimes.
“We have to treat Soldiers but also hold them accountable for the things they do,” said Link.
Despite the fact troops are given extensive education and training, she told students it’s disturbing to know sex crimes are on the rise. Even with Sexual Harassment/Assault, Response and Prevention, or SHARP, training as an annual requirement throughout the Army, Link said 40 percent of sex crimes are committed by Soldiers on fellow Soldiers and that privates through specialists are at the highest risk for sexual assault.
Another slide detailing risk factors for violent sex crimes, showed 63 percent of those crimes involved alcohol use, and 54 percent of them occurred in the barracks over the weekend or on holidays. Link said sexual assault is the most under-reported crime and that only about 33 percent of the victims actually come forward because they are afraid. She said there is also a culture that exists in the ranks that perpetuates the notion that “victims will not be believed.”
Lt. Col. Tom Denzler is assigned to the Office of the Provost Marshal General and was a part of Quantock’s visiting team. He echoed the sentiments of Link with regard to the need for a connection between Soldier health and discipline.
“The two are inextricably linked and cannot be viewed in isolation,” said Denzler. “A Soldier’s substance abuse may be attributed to post-traumatic stress developed while supporting combat operations, so for that reason, a multi-disciplinary approach is required to address the Soldier’s medical condition and criminal conduct. … We want to ensure we treat the Soldier first and, where appropriate, hold the Soldier accountable for his/her conduct.”
There are no quick fixes for any issues, but the Gold Book echoes the sentiments of the Army’s top leaders that despite the many challenges the Army is facing after 10 years of war, they are dedicated to ensuring Soldiers and their families are supported. Quantock said when it comes to suicide sometimes the obvious symptoms slip right by, but that if senior NCOs know what to look for, they can make a difference.
“In combat, we ask Soldiers to do the ultimate deed – to take the life of another human being. That takes its toll and we know this,” he said. “That’s why we have to ensure we do everything we can to take care of our own.”
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