Monday, April 26, 2010

Suicides Will Stop. That's an Order

It's not touchy feely stuff, General. It is not losing an asset into which you have poured massive taxpayer investment. It is about getting treated for clear disorder, some of which may have been caused by military service. It is about competing with the Air Force for history's best suicide reduction program.

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Thousands of soldiers, their bald eagle shoulder patches lined up row upon row across the grassy field, stood at rigid attention to hear a stern message from their commander.

Brig. Gen. Stephen Townsend addressed the 101st Airborne Division with military brusqueness: Suicides at the post had spiked after soldiers started returning home from war, and this was unacceptable.

"It's bad for soldiers, it's bad for families, bad for your units, bad for this division and our Army and our country and it's got to stop now," he insisted. "Suicides on Fort Campbell have to stop now."

It sounded like a typical, military response to a complicated and tragic situation. Authorities believe that 21 soldiers from Fort Campbell killed themselves in 2009, the same year that the Army reported 160 potential suicides, the most since 1980, when it started recording those deaths.

But Townsend's martial response is not the only one. Behind the scenes, there has been a concerted effort at Fort Campbell over the past year to change the hard-charging military mindset to show no weakness, complete the mission.

There are Army doctors like Tangeneare Singh, reaching out to soldiers struggling silently from depression, trauma-related stress and other mental illnesses. There are staffers like Daina Cole, who tracks data collected from Fort Campbell's soldiers, looking for evidence of problems.

And there are platoon sergeants like Robert Groszmann, trained to listen carefully to the soldiers under his command to detect signs of trouble. He knows that the Army must deal with the deadly issues of some of its fighting men and women, though some disdain this "touchy-feely Army stuff."

No comments: