Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III ordered an Army-wide suicide “stand down,” scheduled for Sept. 27, as a way to empower leadership to prevent further loss of life due to suicide.
The stand down is meant to familiarize all members of the Army family with the health promotion, risk reduction, suicide prevention, and comprehensive Soldier and family fitness resources available in the Army. The stand down will also focus on how to improve the health and discipline of the force and reducing the stigma associated with seeking care for behavioral health issues. The stand down was issued after Austin visited installations around the Army and listened to Soldier feedback and suggestions, said Walter O. Morales, chief of the Army Suicide Prevention Program. “He realized more work was needed to address the issue of suicides in the Army and to ensure the awareness and training momentum continues,” Morales said. The last Army-wide suicide prevention stand down took place in 2009. During that event, Morales said, the Army used the “chain teach” approach to push information down to Soldiers.
“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. This time, Morales said, the stand down will be different. “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.” Morales said some commanders might opt for a “fun walk” or run to get Soldiers, civilians and their families involved. They might follow that with an afternoon town hall meeting. Others may conduct risk assessments to better inform their training requirements for the training and sustainment portion of the stand down. Although the stand down is just for one day, Morales said training and activities will be conducted throughout September, which is recognized in the Army as Suicide Prevention Month. Efforts will likely continue into October, particularly for the Reserve Component. One of the main events slated for Sept. 27, 2012 is the “terrain walk.” Morales said that during the event, Army leaders at posts, camps, and stations will go on tours of their respective service support organizations, and will visit the caregivers there “who are in excellent positions to help Soldiers and their families who are most at risk.”
Providers include chaplains, clinicians, lawyers, social workers, financial advisors, family therapists, substance abuse counselors, military life consultants and psychologists. The purpose of the terrain walks, Morales said, is to let commanders know what kinds of resources are available, so they may in turn let Soldiers know what is available.
“We have so many good programs out there, but people often get lost in the shuffle — they know there’s help available, but it’s sometimes difficult finding out how to access it and find the appropriate points of contact,” Morales said.
The theme this year for suicide prevention month — “A healthy force is a ready force” — reflects the Army’s awareness that healthy people and mission go together, Morales said. “We’re not just worried about suicides, we’re concerned with the overall fitness and well-being of our Soldiers, Army civilians and family members,” he said. “It is especially important that leaders lead the charge in changing the Army culture, wherever seeking help for suicide or other issues is stigmatized.” In addition to the terrain walk and unit events, other suicide awareness activities are planned throughout September, including health fairs and resilience training.
A special Suicide Prevention Month webpage has been established on the Army Suicide Prevention website, which explains more, at www.preventsuicide.army.mil.