With suicide prevention being a top priority for Fort Bragg and Army leaders, six representatives from across the installation held a media roundtable Sept. 20, at Stryker Golf Course to address the issue.
Topics included assistance available to service members who contemplate suicide, the many treatment programs provided on Fort Bragg, real-life situations of dealing with suicides within a unit, as well as someone with a firsthand experience of contemplating suicide.
“Instead of looking at suicide prevention as a service, Fort Bragg has decided to call it a mission that each commander on the installation has an obligation to support our Soldiers, Families, and DA civilians,” said Col. Chad McRee, 16th Military Police Brigade commander and Fort Bragg suicide prevention program manager.
“There are many programs on Fort Bragg, as well as across the country, provided for those who want to seek help. This includes Military One Source, and military life consultants who (can provide) anonymous, behavioral health care, as well as chaplains,” said Whitney Brenner, the Fort Bragg Health Promotion Officer.
Dealing with suicide within a unit can be traumatic said Lt. Col. Michael Baumeister, 82nd Sustainment Brigade deputy commander, who as a young officer, dealt wtih two Soldiers in his platoon who took their lives within 30 days of each other. And as a battalion commander another one of his Soldiers took her life.
“The comparison between those 18 years is not even close to the effort and focus that we, as an Army, have towards the prevention of suicide,” said Baumeister. “Fort Bragg is leading the way in this … and it is a personal agenda of mine to prevent (suicide) and care for our Soldiers, as well as our Family members. We are moving in an incredibly positive direction on this very important challenge.”
Master Sgt. Eric W. Brooks, the noncommissioned officer in charge of G-3 Training of United States Army Special Operations Command and applied suicide intervention skills training trainer said he contemplated suicide as a staff sergeant in 2004. He said that since then, he has become an example of one of many Soldiers who have benefited from the services available to overcome depression and suicidal thoughts.
“I was starting to display symptoms of severe depression and anxiety disorder,” said Brooks. “Because of those symptoms I found myself spiraling lower and lower, deeper and deeper to the point where the emotional and physical pain got so unbearable that I finally had to go and seek help for myself.
“I told myself that if I don’t seek this help, I’m going to die, and what’s a career if you’re dead anyway,” said Brooks. “Eight years later, I’ve become extremely successful and my role as a Soldier was not at all challenged. It made me a better leader and it allows me to tell others that if I can do it, anyone can do it.”
The entire Army will have observed a suicide stand down by Thursday, when all units will have to focus on training and education to reinforce suicide prevention, ways to help prevent others who may be contemplating self harm, as well as the resources available to the Fort Bragg community.