USA — Army Guard Battles Soldier Suicides

WASHINGTON, March 30, 2010 — With 2010 sui­cide num­bers slight­ly above last year’s and com­ing off the worst Jan­u­ary on record, the Army Nation­al Guard is empha­siz­ing resilience, tran­si­tion pro­grams and the impor­tance of ask­ing for help.
Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, left, chief of the National Guard Bureau, listens as Army Maj. Gen. Raymond W. Carpenter, acting director of the Army National Guard, testifies before a March 24, 2010, hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on defense in Washington, D.C. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKin­ley, left, chief of the Nation­al Guard Bureau, lis­tens as Army Maj. Gen. Ray­mond W. Car­pen­ter, act­ing direc­tor of the Army Nation­al Guard, tes­ti­fies before a March 24, 2010, hear­ing of the Sen­ate Appro­pri­a­tions Committee’s sub­com­mit­tee on defense in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.
U.S. Army pho­to by Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill 

“We are alarmed by the sui­cide rates we’re see­ing inside the Army Nation­al Guard,” Army Maj. Gen. Ray­mond W. Car­pen­ter, the component’s act­ing direc­tor, told the Sen­ate Appro­pri­a­tions Committee’s sub­com­mit­tee on defense in March 24 testimony. 

Sui­cide con­founds easy expla­na­tion, and deploy­ment might not be the whole answer. 

“Almost half of the sui­cides we’re expe­ri­enc­ing are from sol­diers who haven’t even deployed,” Car­pen­ter said. “There’s more to this than just the mobi­liza­tion and deploy­ment piece.” 

Sen­a­tors and Nation­al Guard lead­ers dis­cussed unem­ploy­ment, finan­cial dis­tress, a chal­leng­ing econ­o­my and reluc­tance to ask for help as con­tribut­ing factors. 

Army Nation­al Guard sui­cides increased 75 per­cent in 2009, accord­ing to Sen. Daniel Inouye, the com­mit­tee chair. Car­pen­ter said 24 sui­cides are cur­rent­ly being inves­ti­gat­ed for 2010, a slight increase over the 22 who had tak­en their own lives dur­ing the same peri­od in 2009. 

“Our deploy­ing sol­diers and air­men are fac­ing chal­lenges that none of us on this pan­el cer­tain­ly ever did in our mil­i­tary careers,” said Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKin­ley, chief of the Nation­al Guard Bureau. “The stress­es, the strains, the finan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties, the times we live in, the stress on the fam­i­ly, the fact that we’ve had con­tin­u­ous rota­tions, obvi­ous­ly have cre­at­ed an envi­ron­ment where many of our young sol­diers and air­men strug­gle to make ends meet.” 

The Air Nation­al Guard lever­ages Army Nation­al Guard pro­grams and adds its own ini­tia­tives, Air Force Lt. Gen. Har­ry M. Wyatt III, the direc­tor of the Air Nation­al Guard, said. Those include exist­ing wing fam­i­ly sup­port coor­di­na­tors and new behav­ioral health professionals. 

“These indi­vid­u­als will be pro­vid­ed to the adju­tants gen­er­al to be placed with­in their states at his or her direc­tion,” Wyatt explained. 

The Guard is mak­ing the behav­ioral health pro­fes­sion­als avail­able to all ser­vice­mem­bers. “It’s not just exclu­sive­ly a ser­vice pro­vid­ed to the Nation­al Guard,” Wyatt said. “It’s made avail­able to all mem­bers of the military.” 

The Air Guard also is work­ing to assure pro­grams at active duty bases and posts are avail­able to reservists. 

“Some of the return­ing Nation­al Guard mem­bers are not hon­est on their post-deploy­ment health assess­ments, sim­ply because they don’t want to be delayed going home,” Sen. Pat­ty Mur­ray noted. 

Car­pen­ter said the Army is reeval­u­at­ing those assess­ments – the first time a study has been done on the Guard and Reserve process in almost three decades. 

“The ini­tia­tive that’s being con­sid­ered at this point is for the sol­dier to be hon­est with what­ev­er emo­tion­al or phys­i­cal prob­lems they might have, be allowed to go home and be with their fam­i­lies, and then allow them to return to get the nec­es­sary treat­ment,” Car­pen­ter said. 

“There’s more to this war than just cross­ing the berm for Bagh­dad,” he said. “The bot­tom line … is prepar­ing peo­ple for sit­u­a­tions that are almost over­whelm­ing. … We’ve got to build a resilien­cy out there to be able to sus­tain those tough times and to be able to not look at sui­cide as a viable option.” 

Army Nation­al Guard pieces of the solu­tion include the active duty Army’s Sol­dier Fit­ness Pro­gram and a part­ner­ship with the Army Reserve in the Hel­mets to Hard­hats program. 

Indi­vid­ual states also have pio­neered pro­grams designed to reduce sol­dier and air­man sui­cides, such as the Kansas Nation­al Guard’s Flash For­ward and the Michi­gan Nation­al Guard’s Bud­dy to Bud­dy program. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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