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Army emphasizes support in ranks, from leaders to prevent suicides

Posted September 25, 2014

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— Suicide within the ranks has plagued the U.S. armed forces for years, but military leaders said Thursday that they hope a shrinking number of suicides and a growing number of soldiers seeking mental health help indicates that they're on the right track.

Last year, 16 Fort Bragg soldiers took their own lives. So far this year, there are only four confirmed cases of suicide, but five other deaths remain under investigation.

Fort Bragg leaders are hoping emphasis on the problem from commanding officers and new support programs are making a difference.

Spc. Michael Raymond, who has attempted suicide seven times, said the programs have saved his life.

"The times the chaplain was called on me, it wasn't because i tried to commit suicide. It's because my friend saw the changes in my behavioral patterns," Raymond said Thursday during a suicide prevention roundtable discussion at Fort Bragg.

Panel members said soldiers have to know the warning signs of depression and look out for each other.

Maj. Gen. K.K. Chin gave an example of what he calls a "diving save," when a soldier went to another soldier's room after she sent a text message that said, "this is it."

"The soldier was standing on a chair with a belt around her neck trying to get it up on the ceiling fan," Chin said. "That's a diving save. That's the bystander intervention. That's the piece that we're looking for from our soldiers."

Military leaders say seeking help is key. In 2007, about 900,000 troops sought help from behavioral specialists. This year, that number is up to 2 million.

Commanders need to create an atmosphere within their units that it's OK to seek help, officials said. Col. David Woods, commander of the 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, said he was shocked by the response when he told the troops he commands that he has sought help for emotional problems.

"When I shared that story and I told the formation that I, myself, have gone and my clearance is intact and my job is still here, I didn't know the impact it would have on this young man," Woods said, referring to Raymond.

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