by Rhonda McBride
8:17 PM AKDT, September 27, 2012
Shoulder to shoulder together. The old US Army motto was put into practice on Thursday at bases across the nation, after soldiers were ordered to devote the entire day to suicide prevention training.
At Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, the service wide "stand down" began in the darkness of an early morning, five-mile jog, called a "Resilience Run."
And from there, the soldiers kept on moving. From the health center to the chapel, the soldiers walked across the base to different buildings. It was a chance for them to get to know what resources are available, where to find them, and to meet those they can reach out to for help.
"We did not want the proverbial death by PowerPoint," said Chaplain Brad Lee, who felt it was important to deliver a personalized message to the soldiers. "So it's leaders looking soldiers in the eye. No other time in the history of our Army do we have the resources that are available to families and soldiers like we do now."
So why are so many soldiers taking their own lives?
One reason Army leaders say they took the unusual step of ordering soldiers to set aside their normal duties for a day, is, the alarming number of deaths for 2012, which appear to be on track to surpass last year's count.
From January through July of this year, the Army recorded 116 deaths, compared to 167 in 2011.
"It's a tragedy and we need to do everything in our power to prevent it," says Dr. Anne Lamoreux, a psychologist who works at JBER. "This, unfortunately, is a route some people contemplate. And so by dedicating a day to it, the Army, the Department of Defense, is focusing on how we impact this in a positive way."
Staff Sgt. Brad Hicks has been in the Army for nine years. He was deployed three times, twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.
Hicks believes eleven years of fighting has taken its toll on the Army's cability to manage the stress of its soldiers, especially with so many having served in multiple deployments.
Hicks says, during combat duty, it may not seem like soldiers need training in suicide awareness, because they get a lot of support from their platoon members.
"They're with their battle buddies. You're never alone," says Hicks. "But when you come home, you get a lot of alone time. And that's when they start thinking about what happened down range."
Hicks says the stand down has helped to put leaders like himself in closer touch with their soldiers.
"No matter how much time they want to spend with their soldiers, they get so tied up on a daily basis, they just don't get to sit and have a conversation with their soldiers about their personal lives, about their work lives," said Hicks, who believes having a day dedicated to ending suicide helped to break down a lot of barriers and build trust.
Outside of the army, other branches of the military did not take part, nor did Thursday's "stand down" include soldiers on combat or medical duty, who will receive suicide awareness training at a later time.
The Army is the largest military group and has the highest suicide rate.
But Chaplain Lee says the Army's service wide spotlight on prevention is a good start in turning those numbers around.
"It was soldier to soldier. And the most important message that was shared, was, 'We care.'"
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