CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — Leadership and the effects it can have to help bring down the suicide rate were among the topics the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed with servicemembers here today.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen spoke to 2nd Infantry Division soldiers about the stresses the Army is under after almost nine years of war. He took time from participating in high-level meetings in Seoul to meet with more than 200 soldiers and airmen.
Last month, 32 soldiers committed suicide – a figure not seen since the Vietnam War when the Army was twice as large.
Mullen said the suicide issue is not going to just magically disappear – it is a tragedy that leaders at all levels must address. “We can’t just keep reading the numbers every single month. They just keep going up,” he said.
Suicides in the military are increasing, the chairman said, because of the stress of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It is the separation from our families, it is the lack of a support structure in our personal lives sometimes, financial challenges, relationships – we know that,” Mullen said. “The one way to crack that is through leadership.”
Leaders have to look out for and reach out to those soldiers in trouble, Mullen said.
“We’ve got a lot of programs focused on that, but the only way to really crack that is leadership at every single level – particularly at the E-4, E-5 and junior officer levels where we know our people best,” he said.
The solution goes to Mullen’s long-held and long-stated position on leadership: That everyone is a leader. He said he has looked on everyone as a leader. “I don’t care how junior you are, everybody must lead,” the admiral said.
Good leadership will ensure a bright future for the U.S. military, Mullen said, noting, “If we lead well and do right by our people whatever it is, we will be in great shape.”
“That means we’ve got to continue to advance, we’ve got to continue to educate, we’ve got to continue to mentor each other,” the admiral continued. “What I ask is that each of you mentor young people coming along. That is the strength of the organization. We take care of each other, we treat people like we want to be treated with dignity and respect.”
The men and women of the military are under great stress from multiple deployments, but relief is coming, Mullen said.
The responsible drawdown in Iraq is proceeding and the number of U.S. servicemembers there will drop to 50,000 by the end of next month, the chairman said That, he said, will provide servicemembers some relief, and will go a long way to getting the force to a less-stressful rotation schedule of two years at home and one year deployed.
The current rotation schedule is around 15 months at home and a year deployed.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)