This topic is very near to my heart. There have been far too many suicides in the Army during the last decade, several of whom I either knew personally as dear friends, were friends with their spouse and family, or served with. There is no easy way to talk about this topic. There is no easy way to bring healing to the families that go through this, and there is no easy way to bring an end to it once and for all.
I am working on my Masters in Military Resilience. One of my first term papers I wrote attacked this issue. I have always felt passionate about it, and I continue to get more passionate as time goes on, and more of my comrades take their life. Even in the last couple weeks; a painful reminder that age, gender, rank, and even overseas service has no bearing on the pain someone carries inside.
My conclusion in my paper included the idea that “Suicide is not easy to analyze. Humans are not all wired the same. It’s a worldwide phenomenon that is not relegated to any one part of the globe in particular. Even people who believe in God have a difficult time with their lives sometimes. There is no cookie cutter way to respond to the fact that suicide rates have gone up in the last decade of our nation being at war. The Soldiers bear the brunt of the expectations placed on them by their leadership, the nation, and civilians in general. Direct combat plays a role, but is not necessary for a Soldier to return home feeling hopeless. Heroic suicide attempts are a way to escape the stigma of having killed oneself, since life was given to save others. While the resiliency program has made great strides over the last few years, that strategy will not work for everyone, and doesn’t explain how to get out of a black hole that leaves someone feeling like there is no other way out. This problem will not be solved overnight, and maybe it will never get solved. Leadership must always give their best efforts to help curb this troubling problem. No matter whether a Soldier returns home broken physically or spiritually, “They have one thing in common: underneath their name tags beats a hero’s heart.” (last quote from John Bruning’s book The Devil’s Sandbox, p. 322).
I am not alone in my passion for this topic. The current CSM of the Army National Guard, Brunk W. Conley, also has a passion for preventing suicide in our ranks. He wrote an entire policy, one that doesn’t even involve an official memo to be posted. He wrote it so that leaders could memorize it, take it to heart, and teach it while out on training lanes, during down time, or any time the opportunity arose. He wanted it to be easy to follow, easy to teach, and something that would stick in our minds and hearts.
CSM Conley’s strategy involves three main points:
- We are a problem solving organization!
- Suicide is not a part of our culture.
- The Warrior Ethos (this is probably the easiest point to teach, because all Soldiers already know it).
So this article doesn’t get too long, I will post what he has to say about each point in the comments. He gave me permission to utilize his words, I will attribute all credit to him.
I believe all it takes is passionate leaders to help make a step in the right direction. I also think that it will never stop hurting, each time we lose a Soldier to suicide. This is not the most popular topic, but it is important, and I believe we need to talk about it. It affects all of us – ARNG, USAR, and the regular Army – and every branch of service. Thank you for your input.