RTFU

Suicide Prevention Day?

By
Updated: September 8, 2013

By Yeti

27 September 2012

Last night I slept on the couch with my sick 3 year old daughter. As I was getting ready for work, my wife woke up with a fever and our 11 month old baby showed signs of a sinus infection. When my wife asked if I could stay home to help out, I said I couldn’t, but I would try to get home early.

I couldn’t stay home because today is Stand Down for Suicide Day across the entire United States Army.

Today is a great opportunity for Soldiers to stand as one and come together to battle a growing epidemic. The importance of this day has been brought up over the past few weeks and I even received a mass email from General Odierno on my AKO.

I don’t want to talk about the reasoning of this day and what it means, because I can’t stress the importance enough. Rather, I want to talk about how the Army goes about training its Soldiers… and why it doesn’t work.

I won’t identify my Brigade because I don’t think that’s fair. Besides, this situation could’ve happened in any unit. As part of Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), our place of duty this morning was the BDE Chapel.

I had hoped that we could take this topic seriously, or at the very least escape the office for an hour or two. The acting HHC Company Commander was in charge of leading the training which included the “Shoulder to Shoulder” video and a PowerPoint presentation that was meant to spark conversation. Unfortunately, he was told THAT MORNING he would be responsible for this task (for the record, he did a great job under the circumstances). He asked me to help because he knew I had dealt with situations of suicide before.

SIDE NOTE: I have a little bit of history on the topic of suicide. However, I’m not unique. When I deployed, a Squad Leader chose to take his own life. It rocked our company and no one knew why he did what he did. A year ago, I welcomed my 2nd daughter into this world and promptly sent pictures to the entire family. A few days later I found out that my sister and her husband were in a hotel room that same night. They were at the end of a long battle with prescription drugs and planned to commit suicide rather than face the embarrassment of telling us. The picture of my daughter, her new niece… helped save my sister’s life.

I have also struggled with suicidal thoughts. Deep down, I think everyone has had those thoughts. For me, my daughters have saved me on more than one occasion. I could never take my life and do that to them or my wife, especially when I have seen the impact that a suicide has on the survivors. I won’t go down a rabbit hole about my issues. I realize it’s a work in progress and I hope other Soldiers can accept that this can happen to anyone.

Back to training… as I looked around the room, I saw Field Grade Officers checking email on their Blackberries or editing Power Point slides, senior enlisted talking business, and NCOs trying to catch a nap. A few people were interested, but the majority acted annoyed.

At this point I got upset. As a leader, I should’ve stopped all of this. But I didn’t. If you have ever been in the situation when you see a mistake, but you fail to correct it, you can understand. It’s easy to correct a PFC, but correcting senior leadership is different (especially when it would mean calling them out in front of a crowd). Even if it’s the right thing to do, the Army has unwritten rules when it comes to situations like this.

When the time came to address the group and share stories, I had a plan of telling the group about the squad leader I knew, or my sister, or even my brushes with suicidal thoughts. I was prepared to pour my heart out in an attempt to possibly make a larger impact then strangers in a video. But not with an audience that wasn’t willing to listen. I think this attitude is one of the biggest problems with suicide in the Army.

What if I was sitting in that same chair but I was a depressed PFC, or NCO, or Officer (rank doesn’t matter). What if I was on the verge of taking my own life and this mandatory training could’ve tipped the scales? What if I was thinking about standing up and admitting “I think about killing myself EVERY day!” If this audience of my peers, superiors, and people I depend on was meant to save me, they would’ve failed miserably.

As training concluded and we headed back to work, my supervisor started talking about what needed to be accomplished that day (since 2 hours had just been wasted). My supervisor loves to talk and as I wrote notes about what I had to complete, all I could think of was my sick family and how long all of this would take. As we concluded our meeting I implied that I need to get back to work so that I could hopefully leave early. This led to some light banter and he eventually joked, “What’s wrong… are you suicidal? Just don’t do it today…”

THIS is what’s wrong and one of the reasons why Soldiers are taking their own lives. “Normal” people who are either insensitive or hide their issues approach serious topics as a joke. But what if that “normal” person is talking with someone standing on the edge? Did he just…push?

I wrote this narrative because I’m frustrated and upset. I’m frustrated with mandatory training, but I’m more frustrated with the fact that we ALL get to a point when mandatory training does not work. When senior leaders try to solve big issues for a big audience, the first solution is always massive, mandatory training. Once that training trickles down to the user level, it usually becomes a “here we go again” attitude. Combine this with toxic leadership, and the result is not positive. However, when the CG gets a slide that says “We are 100% trained!” Then everyone is happy; everyone except the guy that needs help… the guy sitting in the room who won’t reach out in an environment like this.

When will we take it seriously? When our friend kills himself? When our family member takes her life? When we are holding a gun…?

 

Comments

comments

28 Comments

  1. CJ

    September 29, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Unfortunately, I think this is the typical way the Army dealt with the Suicide Prevention Stand Down Day on Thursday. I can’t tell you how pissed off reading this makes me, but is the perfect example of WHY we had the day to begin with. Our leaders don’t care. They are too important to put aside other business for a mere day and focus on saving the lives of the troops sitting next to them. This story is far from the exception to the rule – this, unfortunately, is the rule of today’s Army: senior NCOs and field grade officers that care more about themselves than the lives of the troops under their charge.

  2. FG Officer

    September 29, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    I hope the officer and enlisted leaders reading this can apply this beyond just suicide prevention… Joe is ALWAYS watching you and taking his cue from you. If you are screwing off in the class, they will too. If the battalion commander leads off the class and says “Look, this suicide prevention training is important to me so it should be important to you. I’ve turned off my phone and blackberry; if i catch any of you not paying attention or participating, you, me and the CSM can have a chat after this.”
    Thanks for sharing your story, Yeti. It needed to be told.

  3. Army Wife

    September 29, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    Fantastic, fantastic article. THIS needs to be shared with the leadership of every unit who “blew off” their training (my husband’s included).

  4. Bomber

    September 29, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    I too attended mandatory suicide prevention day. Ours was in the afternoon, and working for a joint forces command that was our alloted time. The shoulder to shoulder video was actually pretty good. It went downhill from there. We had a pretty good psychologist that talked to us, but his partner seemed to only care about his point of view, and if he was going to make it to Major this next year. Then our CO talked to us. Bottom of the barrel time. It is hard to listen to someone who hides in an office all day. It is even harder when he will break off his brief to chew someone,and then everyones ass for 15 minutes. Not the time or the place, Cap. The Army takes it seriously because its an issue. If it wasnt, we wouldnt have had the mandatory training. I won’t lie, I have stuck a gun in my mouth, but im still here. In my opinion nothing that I saw will stop Soldiers from committing suicide. We dont need a video or the VCoS telling us that we matter. Its about coming clean as brothers in arms about whats really wrong with us.

  5. Bach

    September 29, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    This is a great article on exactly what is wrong with our Army today. We have senior NCO’s and officers that know what is the right thing to do but they sit back and let the wrong things happen. Rather than sitting on their Blackberries or bullshitting in the back of the room they should have been the ones teaching the classes. Suicide is not a new thing, depression is not a new thing. The only way our Army can change is from the bottom to the top. Junior NCO’s need to take charge and help out our younger soldiers who have issues. Once it becomes acceptable for issues to be talked about the culture of our Army can finally change. My unit did not conduct the mandatory suicide training. The recruiting mission was more important than the welfare of the soldiers. I believe this highlights the toxic leadership that still persists today. Only when this attitude changes will the suicide epidemic that is plaguing our Army start to go away. Only the will our Army start to heal.

  6. Ted N

    September 29, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    As always, the real work is done every day by your buddies, good NCO’s and Officers. Look your troops in the eye, talk to them and have some sort of sense of how their life is going. Let them blow off steam when they need too.

    Powerpoint is always CYA time burning, and always will be.

    Be a badass leader, and keep in touch with your Joes.

  7. Patty Crack N' Pack

    September 29, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    A buddy of mine recently took his own life. No one knew why, he showed none of the typical symptoms they talk about in mandatory training. But you’re right. Everyone has that “here we go again” attitude and in an effort to appear normal, or even made of granite, those that are really hurting never speak up.

  8. SPC Joe

    September 29, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    While these mandatory trainings are alright, they only address the issues we as soldiers are facing. This should be the first step taken to help ease the burden on us, not the only step. One of the briefings we were given was “Identifying Stressors.” The three main stressors we identified were workplace stress, relationship stress, and financial stress. Any single one of these could make life difficult for a soldier, throw more than one and it doesn’t just stack on, it multiplies. This is useful knowledge, and knowing helps. But knowledge doesn’t solve problems.

    We need to make more than just briefings mandatory if we’re going to prevent suicides. We need to make meeting a professional mental health specialist something that’s easy to achieve. It should be something we get time off work to do. Financial specialists should be easy to approach, with or without an NCO escort. At work we need to become more organized so we can accomplish tasks in a timely manner, and when we have no work to get done we need to send soldiers home so they’re not wasting their days sitting around feeling useless. The idea that Joe is here as cheap labor and should be treated as such needs to disappear. Senior leaders need to grow up and lose the line of thought “If I’m here working why shouldn’t they be here too?” We need to start treating soldiers like people. Like human beings. While we’re in garrison our personal lives and our families should take precedence over command maintenance. It should take precedence over just about everything. I guarantee if soldiers began to feel like their leadership cared more about them, they would begin to care more about accomplishing the task at hand. You’ll always have a few shitbags but that’s the way any workplace is. Leadership creates the climate, we live with it.

    I understand that implementing these changes is much harder than identifying them, but if we’re truly the elite force we believe we are it shouldn’t be impossible.

    • PV2 Collins

      September 30, 2012 at 1:27 pm

      I can’t agree with you more. I think a lot of blame is put where it doesn’t belong. Does anyone actually know what happens when you tell someone you are about to commit suicide? You get punished for it the army doesn’t care if you commit suicide as long as its after they kick you out. I for one love being in the military I am overdue for two mandatory promotions but command keeps losing my paperwork but whatever they never forget a suicide brief or a sharps class…………

  9. Genevieve Chase

    October 1, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    Thank you for articulating this so well and for being open and honest about this issue. In more ways than you know, this post will make a more significant impact because it came from one of our own. You may not have voiced your thoughts in that moment, but you have done so here and in a respectful way that others will feel they can not only relate to but even testify to.

    As I read your post, I was reflecting back on all of our mandatory training to include motorcycle safety awareness, drinking and driving and the sexual assault prevention training. There are so many times where I’ve felt frustrated by the fact that we MAKE our training. As so much that’s given to us to “make do” with, all of us choose how to apply the tools we’re given to the best of our abilities. Sometimes, we fail to see where we have the power to do more because of our own issues.

    I believe in this case, the people you refer to are unable to deal with what they’ve been through on many levels – and they are numb. I’ve been there. I know there are times where I wasn’t present and didn’t show up in the best way possible. I wanted to not feel and not be reminded about the painful shit. I did that by becoming a workaholic. They’re far more socially acceptable than alcoholics, etc. Encouraged and enabled, even.

    What you’ve done here – is what I call “leading as the sweep” as opposed to “leading from the front.” That’s when you see true leadership come from a member of the team who is not in a position of authority. When I speak to audiences, I don’t care anymore if people are distracted or think I have nothing for them (and trust me, my dear brother veterans are the guiltiest of this group because they think they have nothing to learn from a POG chick). I find that when I speak my truth, those who are distracted become quickly engaged. Truth is hard to ignore when it comes from a place of authenticity (in this case a personal story.) That’s never my goal though. My goal is always only one objective: to show up and be present for that one person in the room who might be where I was when I hit that slippery slope. I could give two shits about anyone else. I’m there for me, for that one person and for the lives that are impacted by that person. Anyone else who gets my message, is just a bonus.

    I commend your bravery, courage and passion. I respect your experiences and the wisdom you’ve gleaned from them. I admire your awareness in that moment and I honor your continued service. I am grateful to know that somewhere out there is a fellow brother in arms who ‘gets it’ and isn’t about to let important shit slide. We’ve lost enough of our own.

    Thank you.

    • Yeti

      October 2, 2012 at 11:50 am

      Thank you for your comment, it means a lot

      -Yeti

  10. IrishSailor

    October 2, 2012 at 11:05 am

    As my friend, an SSG with in the Army likes to say, Not just dumb, Army Dumb. Funny little slogan spoofs aside, in the Navy the same problem existed when I was in. We had General Military Training (GMT) or as we liked to call it, General Misuse of Time. Mass training on a topic like suicide can help, but it’s far from the solution. Junior Officers and Senior NCOs need to be talking to their Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen, privately and on a regular basis. You need to know what’s going on in your men and women’s lives. Just knowing that your leaders are interested and care can be enough to keep one of your soldiers off the edge.

  11. Ray Murphy

    October 2, 2012 at 11:24 am

    It is a sad truth that most mandatory training ends up being pencil-whipped or lumped into the pile of already too much ‘mandatory training’ and gets watered down, lost in the shuffle.

    Look, this shit is important, you know it, I know it, hell, I’d bet 90% of the standing Army knows it, but because it was pushed down our throats it became just another 2 hours of my life that we all can’t get back.

    You’ve touched on some areas that are in dire need of improvement, the way we train/trained is broken. Individual oversight and responsibility for self and others is mostly just an afterthought or an automated response without genuine care anymore. As long as the command can report that all-powerful, all-meaningful 100% all the rest is fluff and not important until it does strike home. This isn’t new, this goes way back to before I enlisted and it doesn’t look to be getting any better.

    What is the fix? Genuine concern by soldiers and their leadership. Until someone cares, it ain’t going away or getting any better.

  12. Kronik

    October 2, 2012 at 11:44 am

    It’s a sad fact…

    I just left the Army after doing 8 years. While I was in I had made it to SGT(p) and for some reason, it seemed like I was the only leader soldiers would open up to…

    On more than one occasion I had to take joe to the chaplain to talk about what’s going on in their lives. What made it worse was the fact that I was dealing with scars left from my first deployment and the loss of close friends as well as my own brushes with the end. It’s a hard thing to take some one else in for help when you know deep down inside you’re thinking of doing the same thing. It takes a lot of balls to sit down with someone and tell them what you’re going through and that they can make it through too.

    Suicide is also a personal issue for me. My grandfather was a cop who decided it would be better to suck-start his issued revolver than to go home and deal with the pressures of being a husband and a dad to five kids. Especially when he had an on going affair. His death racked my mom’s family and changed everything for the worse.

    At any rate, at the end of the day, the seriousness of the issue needs to be felt not by the SGTs, the SSGs, the SFCs, or even the LTs. IT needs to be felt by the Commanders at all levels, the NCOs above platoon level, and joe. It’s a true shame that it seems like the people who feel the pressure the most and understand the issue the best are the leaders at platoon level and below.

  13. CombatVet

    October 2, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Unfortunately the day you get out of OSUT or AIT is the day you realize the Army isn’t anything you were told it is. There are so many shit heels and knuckle draggers in the military that the only time you feel any sort of brotherhood or responsibility in a group fashion is when you’re deployed in hostile territory. If bases were still run like they are a TRADOC or 75th Regiment we wouldn’t have to worry so much about a douchebag with rank. I remember treating suicide risks as a chore because you had to pull extra duty for suicide watch until they were dealt with, and openly making fun of the person to their face out of frustration from losing that sleep – until I actually came across a suicide casualty in the latrine.
    When I was still in (2007) all I heard from good soldiers was “I can’t wait to get out.” – and complaints about how things are from the guys who planned on going career. I have no idea if things have changed for the better – but if they haven’t, that’s a lot of good soldiers who have gotten out since then.
    If something doesn’t change, our military is going to be a bunch of politics and fat bodies with a few low ranking individuals that take their job seriously, but want out because of what they have to put up with.
    It all goes hand in hand with the suicide rates in the military. The lack of discipline is shit across the board. I wish you would have squared everyone away in that meeting and gotten real with it, but I understand why you didn’t. Unfortunately that is the very reason nothing will change for the better and we will continue to lose good soldiers to the declining curve of what is acceptable…

  14. Dave

    October 3, 2012 at 2:08 am

    I have a slightly different take on this. I am a FG in a COCOM. The juniorist person in my section is a 44 year old O-4. The presentation had no connection to the audience.

    While the Army does try to show that it cares, a “one size fits all” slideshow is the wrong tool.

    I think a better solution would have been to give several tools (slides, videos, vingettes, chaplains, aid workers, etc) to smaller groups and had better discussions. Let the units (who know their people) have honest discussions. I would never walk into my wifes unit (also a FG) and presume to know her Soldiers – she would throw me out of her AO so freakin fast.

    Final point – as the smaller units do thier training, the FGs need to go away and talk about linking standards to individal self worth (a lot of what is being said above). I agree if a FG is present, thier actions shape what is happening in the room. But this is one where FG just gum up the works.

  15. SFC (R) Michael Schlitz

    October 3, 2012 at 8:11 am

    This is a well written from the heart piece. I found myself thinking back to the many other mandatory training sessions to include Suicide. Because this was so well written it also angered me as the situation did for the writer.

    I am a Combat wounded Disabled Veteran who on occasion talks about Suicide Prevention and how we need to rely on our Brothers and Sisters to our Left and Right. I also feel this first needs to start at the top with the Leaders. If they are not setting the standard then they are wrong period. If that is the kind of example they are setting then it’s highly likely that unit probably has others problems in different areas.

    If we (Veterans and Service Members) don’t watch out for each other how do we fix the problem. No one understands us better then those who have worn our Boots. If we don’t help fix the issues we face then don’t get mad when the Military brings in outside agencies to solve it for us.

    If anyone here needs help please reach out. Find me on fb, go to GallantFew.org, or for immediate help call,text, or write theVA Suicide Prevention Crisis Hotline at

    Call 1-800-273-8255 press 1
    Text 838255
    Online Chat http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/

    I pray that those who need help will find it and that we won’t lose one more unnecessary life. God Bless Our Troops

  16. Regina

    October 3, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Amazing and hopefully will make a REAL difference. Thank you for sharing so much! God Bless!

  17. Suicide Prevention HOUR

    October 3, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    My unit was much too special to spend a whole day on this topic. We only spent about an hour on this topic before watering down the subject with other presentations. With a captive audience on hand, it was deemed more important to have CFC and another entity ask for our donation money.

  18. Dee Crump

    October 4, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Oh yes, their day of Suicide Prevention..They don’t realize when they ask the Privates that are having problems talk to their Staff Srgt only to have them blow it off or make fun of them..
    I hear the stories – my son just went thru basic (um 4-5 suicides there that I remember him telling me). ARMY – this is just in TRAINING!!!!
    The young soldiers feel intimidated by their elders knowing if they speak on what is bothering, get down and give me 50 will happen. The Army needs to handle this better.
    In fact – there was a suicide on Monday (10-1) in Korea. The young boy just had the Suicide class tht Friday…How is that for getting thru to them? No telling how many more completed this act. The Army and all military branches need to JUMP on this….

  19. CPT Barron

    October 10, 2012 at 10:11 am

    Thanks for this article. As a Guard CDR, we execute this weekend. This gave me some great food for thought and you are spot on about the mentality of Army training like this. I had already decided I wanted to make sure that I communicated to my instructors that we will not “apologize” for this training. We do that all too often, you know what I mean, “Hey guys I know this training is kinda corny and stupid but some of it is good so just get what you can out of it.” Bam. Done. Credibility of the event is destroyed before we start. Soldiers just tune it out.

    Your comments on cell phones and such did resonate though as I am often that guy. I will make sure not to be for this training and that my leaders set the example as well. As far as getting my Soldiers to talk and take this seriously, I work in the group development/team building industry on the civilian side and much of my time is spent in outpatient mental health settings. I am hoping to utilize some of my experiential adventure based activities to help engage the guys more effectively and add some interest. We will see.

    Thanks for the article.

  20. Mandi

    September 8, 2013 at 9:51 am

    Much respect and agreement. Great article..thanks for exposing this issue!!

  21. 525mike

    September 8, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Excellent article Yeti! Much too often leadership (senior and junior)tend to loose touch with their joes. From squad leaders on up problems need to be communicated so the command can do it’s best to help troubled joes. Just because joe has a problem doesn’t mean it reflects on your leadership ability. Stuff happens in life! Without an open line of communication, and assuring joe that his or her troubles can be communicated without fear of reprisals, this and other problems can’t be fixed.

  22. Stephen

    September 8, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    This is how the military’s approach to many problems. Unfortunately, the objective is to “check the box” and enter it as done until the next year.

    As long as the knee jerk solution fulfills the requirement, the issue is seen as being addressed and communicated openly. Anyone would open up when the whole morning is dedicated to you, right?

    If there is still an issue, then the cause has probably not been addressed appropriately. But who wants to spend their time figuring all that out? Let’s just check the “stand down” box and continue with our day. We will worry about the whole suicide problem next September, or whenever the media start’s hyping it up.

    Wait, why is there a gap between suicide and reaching out for help?

  23. Jo

    September 8, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    Perhaps y’all need to start doing what ft Hood and some other bases have started doing, bringing in suicide survivors. Those of us who have been left behind after our active duty loved one has taken their own life. Not saying it make a huge difference in numbers, but it does take the sick laughter out of it

    • Erin Bettis @ erinbettis.com

      September 8, 2013 at 7:35 pm

      Jo,

      I’m deeply sorry for your loss. If you’d like a chance to speak out, please email me. I, too, am and active duty spouse.

      Erin
      [email protected]

      • Jo

        September 9, 2013 at 12:17 pm

        Erin,

        I am not sure what you mean by speak out. With survivors of suicide, survivor outreach services and T*A*P*S many of us do speak out.
        I will be speaking at this years “out of the darkness” walk in San Antonio and then we hope meeting with AMEDD. I say hope because they are well aware of who my father was (an Army chaplain assigned to MEDCOM who took his own life) and they are pretty sick of listening to what my family and others have to say on the topic. Yet nothing ever changes. A few simple changes would make a drastic difference.

  24. Pete

    September 26, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    So I was trained through the Army in a program called ASIST. I have been around the DOD literally my entire life thanks to my family’s commitment to this country and doing the right thing. This program is probably the one program that I have been exposed to that has a chance to work if it is applied correctly.
    I have to say though, when I gave my last class and told my commander that I would need 2 solid 8 hour days to present the information properly, I was told to cut out the fluff and get in step with his training plan.
    I was promptly now on his bad guy list and he found a reason for me to transfer to BDE within 30 days.

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