Guard director details suicide prevention techniques

By on Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

AUSTIN, Texas: Enhanced leadership, ensuring recruits are compatible with military service and conducting better post-deployment screenings are among solutions the acting director of the Army National Guard recently suggested to reverse the spike in Soldier suicides.

We could be at 100 suicides by the end of the year, said Maj. Gen. Raymond Carpenter, speaking at a breakout session of 132nd General Conference of the National Guard Association of the United States here last month.

Carpenter, who briefs the vice chief of staff of the Army on the Guard’s suicide rate, said it is not an intractable problem. “We have an incredible amount of brainpower to put against this,” he said. “We can solve this.”

Leadership at every level has as obligation to recognize signs of depression and reckless behavior that could lead to suicide or other destructive behavior.

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

Recently, a Soldier was chaptered out of Basic Combat Training after enlisting in the active Army. He attempted to enlist in the National Guard, but failed BCT a second time.

He enlisted in the Guard again and completed BCT and Advanced Individual Training before returning home. He began having behavioral problems, including prescription drug and alcohol abuse, employment issues and a troubled marriage, which culminated in his suicide.

“I would not deny that young Soldier help,” Carpenter said. “But we’ve got to figure out whether 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.”

The Soldier encountered severe compatibility issues, and the Army should have taken long look as to whether he was fit for military service, Carpenter said.

“It isn’t a deployment problem,” he added. “It has to do with significant emotional events in their lives, but beyond that it has to do with their ability to cope.”

Post-deployment health assessments can determine whether Soldiers are experiencing suicidal tendencies, but only with their cooperation can behavioral adjustments succeed.

Soldiers shouldn’t discourage their spouse or other family members from helping them find treatment. Help is the only way to take aggressive efforts before problems mushroom, Carpenter said.

“We’ve got to get to the person who is making that decision,” he added. “We have to make that a priority.”

Carpenter mentioned National Guard 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.”

(Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill write for the National Guard Bureau)

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