Resilience, the Army, and Suicide

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:

  1. We are a problem solving organization!
  2. Suicide is not a part of our culture.
  3. 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.

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3 thoughts on “Resilience, the Army, and Suicide”

  1. Over my years in the service I've watched suicide go from already unacceptable levels in the late 90's and steadily rise after the wars started. It just shows that with all our advances in technology and medicine the human mind and how it functions are still far from our grasp.
    Everyone is effected by ops tempo and deployments, but it effects everyone differently and we all have to be vigilant for warning signs. It's not acceptable to see your comrade having a tough time and just hoping they'll tough it out. Not every member referred for treatment will be saved, but we have to do better.
    We never give up on our friends during war and that shouldn't change when we come home.

    1. I agree that everyone handles things differently and deals with stress differently. The Army needs to keep a close eye on all returning soldiers to make sure they are okay.

  2. There is so much to this topic that I do not even know where to begin on comments except to say: generally when someone attempts suicide it is a call for help – like the guy that stands of the bridge threatening to jump. It’s a whole other story when the guy on the bridge says nothing and just goes over. I have known too many people who went to the dark abyss and said farewell to life. It often makes me angry at the selfishness of going out that way. There is another mindset and I find it hard to classify it as suicide (though technically it is): to sacrifice one’s self for the team – like throwing yourself on a grenade to save your troops. In this situation the mindset isn’t the dark abyss of hopelessness – the mindset is based on life and sacrificing your own to save others. More definitely needs to be written about this subject.

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