FORT RILEY, Kan. (WIBW) -- Senior leaders say suicide is one of the toughest enemies faced by our Army.
Vice Chief of Staff of the Army General Lloyd J. Austin III addressed the issue in July when officials toured Fort Riley to assess the overall health of the force.
"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 said at a press conference during his visit to the northeast Kansas installation. The leaders visited six installations during the "Health of the Force Tour."
Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler III also focused on suicide rate when he traveled to the Home of the Big Red One to talk with soldiers two weeks ago.
Chandler was quoted by the Army News Service on Sept. 26 as saying: "Suicide is an enemy we have yet to defeat. Our ultimate goal is to change mindset across the force, build resilience, strengthen life-coping skills and address the stigma associated with asking for help. We've got a long ways to go, but we're going to get there."
This week, Fort Riley is taking part in an Army-wide "suicide stand down." Soldiers have been ordered to put aside their usual duties and focus on suicide prevention training.
"In response to the high number of suicides that have occurred in the Army over the past few years, Army leaders have issued an order for us to conduct a suicide stand down day and in response to that, this week, we’ve done a community resource fair where we’re highlighting the resources available to soldiers and families on the installation geared towards improving their health and well being just in areas of alcohol, substance abuse, domestic violence, just behavioral health. And we’re also offering speakers throughout the week that are geared towards promoting the health and well being of soldiers. Our chaplains are helping with the spiritual side and emotional health, just letting people know that they are available if they need anyone to talk to if they’re going through a rough time in their life," explained Tara Lopez with the 1st Infantry Division's Health Promotion Operations.
Speakers talked about how to recognize signs of suicidal behavior and strategies to intervene.
As a spin on the rather grim topic, Fort Riley encouraged soldiers to focus on what they live for each day to help them remember the positive things in their lives.
The challenge for Army leaders is changing soldiers’ mindset that asking for help is a weakness when officials say it should be seen as a strength. The "stand down" activities were designed to help make soldiers aware of who they could turn to for help.
During the Health of the Force press conference in July, Fort Riley Senior Commander Brigadier General Don MacWillie said: "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."
"The most important thing that the Army needs to realize is that in order for this to be an effective program, the soldiers have to be willing to step up and help themselves and then the chain of command can lead them in the right direction," said Sgt. Jeremy Capron, a Fort Riley soldier.
The Army is the largest of the services and it has the highest number of suicides.
September is recognized nationally and by the Army as Suicide Prevention Month. The theme for this year's observance is "A Healthy Force is a Ready Force."