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News > Commentary - Leaders must emphasize resiliency and suicide prevention
Leaders must emphasize resiliency and suicide prevention

Posted 9/14/2012   Updated 9/14/2012 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Maj. Gen. Michael Garrett
U.S. Army Alaska Commanding General

9/14/2012 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- The Army has designated September as Suicide Prevention Month in order to emphasize awareness, promote resiliency, and increase the recognition of suicide risk factors and training that targets suicide prevention and intervention. U.S. Army Alaska will have our own Suicide Stand Down Day on Sept. 27.

My goal is to minimize suicidal behavior among our Soldiers. Many suicides, if not all, are preventable if the at-risk Soldier's buddies, leaders and family members are vigilant and involved. But we all need to appreciate the importance of the warning signs and the danger they represent. If we all know how and when to intervene, I believe we can prevent any suicide from again affecting our command.

Being arctic tough includes having mental, emotional, physical and spiritual strength. I believe spirituality allows Soldiers to look outside themselves for a sense of purpose and provides resiliency when overcoming challenges. In my experience, belonging to a group of spiritually like-minded people can provide critical support to Soldiers who are dealing with crisis.

The care and welfare of each Soldier in our formation is important. It's every Soldier's responsibility to be looking left, right, up and down for signs of those who are at risk and it's every leader's responsibility to know their troops in a more personal way and be aware of what is going on in their lives.

If a Soldier needs help, they must know their request will receive their leadership's attention and be seen as a sign of strength instead of a character flaw. The Army has learned that earlier treatment leads to a faster recovery. We must ensure timely care is available to those who are exhibiting warning signs and they get help as early as possible.

Suicide prevention is everyone's responsibility. Know the signs and know what to do when you see someone at risk. When a Soldier is experiencing problems that warrant intervention, leaders must not hesitate in referring them to the chaplain or behavioral health.

We must all work to change any negative attitudes or beliefs that seeking help is a sign of weakness. Such stigmas are a barrier between at-risk Soldiers and the preventive care they need. We must all recognize that asking for help exhibits courage and that even the strongest must turn to others in a time of personal crisis. No one should feel they must endure pain alone.

We as leaders must be vigilant and approachable in order to be part of the solution. Commanders have many resources available to them to help educate our Soldiers and their families about anxiety, stress, depression and treatment. They can increase the visibility of behavioral health resources in the workplace. They can also reinforce the proven effectiveness of the battle buddy system and that we never have to face hardship alone.

Recently, I welcomed newly arrived Soldiers to Alaska at a newcomer's brief. I made a point to tell those troops how important suicide intervention is to me and asked them if they knew what the acronym ACE (Ask, Care and Escort) stood for. By the low number of hands that were raised it is clear we still have a lot of training to do. Every Soldier should know what to do if they suspect their buddy is at risk. This is one of my priorities and I expect it to be one of yours.

Once a Soldier is receiving help, leaders must support the confidentiality between that Soldier and their behavioral healthcare provider. Leaders should also review their policies and procedures to ensure there is nothing there that could preclude their troops from receiving all the assistance necessary.

The Suicide Stand Down Day on Sept. 27 aims to increase leader-led communications, unit cohesion, leader focus on issues impacting resilience and comprehensive fitness, awareness of available resources, and reduce the stigma attached to seeking help. I look forward to seeing each one of you for an early morning Resiliency Run to kick-off this important day.

As always, I am tremendously proud to be your commander. I learn more every day about the great efforts you all put into accomplishing your assigned missions and I am grateful for the opportunity to lead you. I encourage you to continue giving your best each and every day to USARAK and I promise to do the same. You all are the strength of our nation and the reason I wake up every day fired-up to find more ways to serve you.

Arctic Warriors! Arctic Tough!

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