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News > Commentary - Suicide Prevention Month: look out for your buddy
Suicide Prevention Month: look out for your buddy

Posted 9/20/2012   Updated 9/20/2012 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Command Sgt. Maj. Bernie Knight
U.S. Army Alaska command sergeant major

9/20/2012 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- In July, the Army reported 38 suspected suicides - the highest number since the Army began keeping detailed records on suicide in 2009.

That tragic statistic makes suicide the most common cause of death in the Army right now - more than combat or vehicle accidents.

Suicide prevention is an institutional Army program, focused on this urgent issue year round, but this month the Army is intensifying its efforts to ensure every Soldier, civilian and family member knows what resources are available to help those in need.

Here at U.S. Army Alaska, Sept. 27 is designated as a Suicide Stand Down day to train leaders and Soldiers on issues affecting resilience and comprehensive fitness, awareness of available resources and reducing the stigma associated with getting help.
I urge each and every one of you to look out for your buddy. It's the first and best line of defense against suicide. Keep this cornerstone of the Army's Warrior Ethos in mind: "I will never leave a fallen comrade."

That statement means just as much back home as it does on the battlefield. As our units return from combat and our Soldiers deal with personal and professional stressors and adversities, it's more important than ever to take care of each other.

The acronym ACE is a good reminder of what to do when you suspect your buddy is contemplating suicide:

Ask your buddy
· Have the courage to ask the question, but stay calm
· Ask the question directly: Are you thinking of killing yourself?
Care for your buddy
· Calmly control the situation; do not use force; be safe
· Actively listen to show understanding and produce relief
· Remove any means that could be used for self-injury

Escort your buddy
· Never leave your buddy alone
· Escort to chain of command, chaplain, behavioral health professional, or primary care provider
An ACE card and a wealth of other information is on the Army's Suicide Prevention website at:

Leaders play a crucial role in preventing suicide. Leaders who know their Soldiers can recognize the changes in behavior, attitude and actions that signal a Soldier is in mental distress.
When a Soldier exhibits any of these warning signs, the buddy or chain of command should be vigilant and secure help for that Soldier:
· Talk of suicide or killing someone else
· Giving away property or disregard for what happens to one's property
· Withdrawal from friends and activities
· Problems with girlfriend/boyfriend or spouse
· Acting bizarre or unusual (based on your knowledge of the person)
· Soldiers in trouble for misconduct (Article-15, Uniform Code of Military Justice, etc.)
· Soldiers experiencing financial problems or high debt
· Those soldiers leaving the service (retirements, end term of service, etc.)
When a Soldier shows any of these behaviors, he or she should be seen immediately by a counselor or mental health professional:
· Talking or hinting about suicide
· Formulating a plan to include acquiring the means to kill oneself
· Having a desire to die
· Obsession with death (music, poetry, artwork)
· Themes of death in letters and notes
· Finalizing personal affairs
· Giving away personal possessions

Reducing stigma
The Army has worked hard in the last few years to fight the stigma that prevents Soldiers from getting help, but there's still a common belief among many that seeking help for mental health issues can damage their careers.
Understand that avoiding help is going to harm your career and could even cost you your life.
I ask leaders at all levels to do their part to ensure Soldiers understand there is no shame in getting help.
As Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III has said, "Recognize that seeking help is a sign of courage and that even the strongest turn to one another in a time of need."

Military Crisis Line
If you're a Soldier, civilian or family member in crisis, or know anyone who is, you can get confidential support by phone, chat, or text at the Military Crisis Line. Call (800) 273-8255 and press 1 for military; go online at; or text 838255.

Arctic Tough!

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