FORT RILEY, Kan. (WIBW) -- Army senior leaders ended their week-long tour of six installations at Fort Riley Friday.
They visited the "Home of the Big Red One" as they worked to assess the overall health of those serving in the Army's ranks.
Vice Chief of Staff of the Army General Lloyd J. Austin III along with Surgeon General of the Army Lieutenant General Patricia Horoho, Lieutenant General Howard Bromberg, Deputy Chief of Staff, G1, Lieutenant General Michael Ferriter, Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management, Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III and Fort Riley Senior Commander Brigadier General Don MacWillie held at press conference Friday afternoon at the Mission Training Complex.
General Austin says the fight in Afghanistan, where thousands of "Big Red One" soldiers are currently deployed, is a top priority. Equally important, he added, is the health of the soldiers.
"This is absolutely central to the readiness of our Army, not only with respect to the current fight but also the next fight," he said.
The senior leaders met with commanders and health professionals to look at different programs, services and resources, including the evaluation of disabilities, suicide and sexual assault prevention and Wounded Warrior care efforts.
"Here at Fort Riley, folks are doing a great job at partnering with local colleges and academic institutions such as Kansas State to study ways to improve the health and resiliency of our soldiers, veterans and family members. That said, we recognize that we still have a lot of work to do," General Austin said.
Officials say suicide is one of the toughest enemies faced by the Army and our country.
"It takes courage and strength to come forward and say I need some help so if we can break through that at that very bottom level, we’ll see success. The second piece is, we’ve got to educate and empower some leaders across the board to not only know their solders but also indicators and stressors. We watch out for one another on the battlefield, we’re going to look out for one another here at home," MacWillie said during the press conference about the practices at Fort Riley. MacWillie says there are 214 behavioral health providers at Fort Riley.
Lieutenant General Patricia Horoho, Surgeon General of the Army, said since 2007, the the number of behavioral health providers has increased by 83 percent.
"We're now moving forward with embedding behavioral health in our brigade combat teams so that we have that capability in the footprint of where the soldiers actually work. We've embedded behavioral health in our primary care so that it's part of the fabric of when people come in for primary care visits," she said.
"It is about building resiliency in soldiers and families. It is about engaging soldiers early on and building that network of trust and support that's required to keep folks on the right track," Austin added.
By seeing the impact of the Army’s practices firsthand during their "Health of the Force" tour, the leaders say they’re assessing where the Army may need to apply more resources or create policy changes.
"The goal of all of these visits has been to identify the best practices but also to identify friction points and figure out how we at the Headquarters Department of the Army can help by getting the word out or by making needed policy changes or by applying additional resources," General Austin added.
The tour of Army installations also included Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Fort Hood, Texas, Fort Benning, Georgia, Fort Stewart, Georgia and Fort Gordon, Georgia.