USA — ‘We Can Solve’ Soldier Suicides, General Says

AUSTIN, Texas — More vig­i­lant lead­er­ship, pre-screen­ing recruits for com­pat­i­bil­i­ty with mil­i­tary ser­vice and bet­ter post-deploy­ment fol­low up are among solu­tions pro­posed by the act­ing direc­tor of the Army Nation­al Guard for stem­ming sol­dier sui­cides.

Army Maj. Gen. Ray­mond W. Car­pen­ter, the act­ing direc­tor of the Army Nation­al Guard, address­es the 132nd Gen­er­al Con­fer­ence of the Nation­al Guard Asso­ci­a­tion of the Unit­ed States in Austin, Texas, Aug. 21, 2010. Car­pen­ter pro­posed more vig­i­lant lead­er­ship, pre-screen­ing recruits for com­pat­i­bil­i­ty with mil­i­tary ser­vice and bet­ter post-deploy­ment fol­low up as among solu­tions for stem­ming sol­dier sui­cides.
U.S. Army pho­to by Staff Sgt. Jim Green­hill
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Speak­ing at a break­out ses­sion of 132nd gen­er­al con­fer­ence of the Nation­al Guard Asso­ci­a­tion of the Unit­ed States here Aug. 21, Army Maj. Gen. Ray­mond W. Car­pen­ter sound­ed the alarm about the Army’s cur­rent high sui­cide rate.

“We [could] be at 100 sui­cides by the end of this year,” said Car­pen­ter, who peri­od­i­cal­ly briefs Gen. Peter W. Chiarel­li, the Army’s vice chief of staff, on the Army Guard’s sui­cide rate and spe­cif­ic cas­es.

Car­pen­ter empha­sized that stop­ping sol­dier sui­cides isn’t an insolv­able prob­lem.

“We have an incred­i­ble amount of brain­pow­er to put against this,” he said. “We can solve this.”

First, lead­ers at every lev­el in the chain of com­mand must be more vig­i­lant about the wel­fare of their sol­diers, the gen­er­al said.

“I’ve got an oblig­a­tion [as a leader] … to know who is in my orga­ni­za­tion and what’s going on with them,” Car­pen­ter said.

“If you’re a squad leader, you’re sup­posed to know your squad,” he con­tin­ued. “You need to know whether they’re mar­ried, whether they have kids, whether they’re going to school, whether they have a job.”

In one recent sui­cide case, Car­pen­ter recalled, a per­son had enlist­ed in the active Army and was “chap­tered out” dur­ing basic train­ing, mean­ing he was sep­a­rat­ed for inabil­i­ty to per­form, or for lack of effort, or fail­ure to adapt to the mil­i­tary, or for dis­ci­pline issues.

This per­son lat­er re-enlist­ed in the Nation­al Guard and failed basic train­ing again — this time after a fight, Car­pen­ter said.

Car­pen­ter said this indi­vid­ual enlist­ed a third time — again in the Guard — and com­plet­ed basic and advanced train­ing and then returned home, where he had behav­ioral prob­lems.

Per­son­al issues that cul­mi­nat­ed in the young soldier’s sui­cide, he said, includ­ed an injury, pre­scrip­tion drug and alco­hol abuse, and employ­ment and mar­riage prob­lems. The sol­dier, he said, had nev­er deployed.

“I would not deny that young sol­dier help,” Car­pen­ter said. “But we’ve got to fig­ure out whether [such] peo­ple are the kind of peo­ple who are going to be able to be sol­diers in our for­ma­tions and do what is asked of them by this coun­try.

“We as an orga­ni­za­tion should have tak­en a long look at whether that young man was com­pat­i­ble with mil­i­tary ser­vice,” he con­tin­ued. “Three times, and he final­ly got in.”

The issue of sol­dier sui­cides “isn’t a deploy­ment prob­lem,” Car­pen­ter said, not­ing that the major­i­ty of sui­cides are com­mit­ted by younger sol­diers.

“It has to do with sig­nif­i­cant emo­tion­al events in their lives, but beyond that, it has to do with their abil­i­ty to cope,” the gen­er­al said.

A third piece of the solu­tion was sug­gest­ed by a sec­ond case of sol­dier sui­cide that Car­pen­ter said he had briefed to senior lead­ers. In this case, he said, the sol­dier had mobi­lized and deployed. On his post-deploy­ment health assess­ment, the sol­dier said he’d expe­ri­enced sui­ci­dal thoughts, had pos­si­ble post-trau­mat­ic stress and slept poor­ly. The sol­dier also said he need­ed help.

The trou­bled sol­dier met with Vet­er­ans Affairs health care providers at least once and was pre­scribed med­ica­tion, Car­pen­ter said. How­ev­er, he said, the sol­dier had dis­cour­aged his wife from talk­ing with his unit to seek fur­ther help.

The les­son is that lead­ers must be more assertive and involved to help trou­bled sol­diers before issues mush­room, the gen­er­al said.

“We talk about being part of the Guard fam­i­ly,” Car­pen­ter said. “We’re going to have to walk the walk instead of talk the talk. … The sol­dier is the cen­ter of grav­i­ty.

“Com­mit­ting sui­cide is not a viable alter­na­tive. … We’ve got to get to the per­son who is mak­ing that deci­sion. … We have to make that a pri­or­i­ty,” the gen­er­al added.

Car­pen­ter high­light­ed Nation­al Guard-spon­sored sui­cide pre­ven­tion pro­grams in Arkansas, Cal­i­for­nia, New Hamp­shire and New Jer­sey.

“There are some great things going on out there,” he said. “Every state has a great pro­gram.”

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

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