The weight of grief experienced by the loved ones of three Fort Drum soldiers as well as everyone on the post must be overwhelming following the news this past weekend of their reported suicides.
Authorities at Fort Drum described the deaths as “isolated and unconnected suspected self-harm incidents” that all occurred within 72 hours. We cannot imagine how heartbroken all those who knew these individuals must feel.
Maj. Gen. Milford H. Beagle Jr., commander of the 10th Mountain Division, made the following statement through a news release issued Monday by Fort Drum. Speaking on behalf of himself and Command Sgt. Maj. Mario O. Terenas, his words offer comfort and support in this time of anguish:
“CSM Terenas and I ask you all to keep the families of the soldiers in your prayers during this difficult time and allow them the time to process their loss of a loved one. In trying times like these, it is incumbent upon us all to reach out to your battle buddy. Make sure they are OK. I have spoken with our command teams, and they will gather everyone together on Monday. I have asked them to address the warning signs of those at risk, enhance understanding of the characteristics of suicidal ideation and to share coping mechanisms. To the soldiers of Fort Drum, the 10th Mountain Division and our entire Army: I want you to know every life is worth living! Your life because you are a teammate, your life because you are Mountain Tough Soldier. If you have problems, challenges or issues, there is help available from this chain of command all the way down to help you get the resources you need. Do not suffer in silence.”
In a video that he and Terenas previously made about September being Suicide Prevention Month, Beagle cited this grim statistic:
“Roughly every 27 hours, we lose a battle buddy. We lose a soldier to suicide. … Unacceptable. Let’s stop the clock.”
Terenas added: “I know this is Suicide Prevention Month. But honestly, we need to be thinking about it every minute, every hour, every day, every week, every month, every year because it’s not just about awareness. It’s about prevention. This is about saving lives at the end of the day.”
A report prepared earlier this year by the Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs at Brown University revealed a disturbing phenomenon: While about 7,000 service members have been killed in post-9/11 operations, more than 30,000 active-duty troops and veterans of those wars have died by suicide. This shows the need for mental health resources and effective outreach efforts.
In their video, Beagle and Terenas stressed the need for people enduring struggles to seek the help they need — and there are resources available. They also urged their soldiers to check on their friends.
Beagle and Terenas were obviously speaking directly to the men and women under their command at Fort Drum as well as to all members of the U.S. armed forces. But their message applies to all of us. There are ways to connect people we know who are in trouble with the help they require.
The Army lists available resources on the website for its Suicide Prevention Program. The phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-TALK (8255). Armed services members can press 1 for the Military Crisis Line.
The U.S. Department of Defense’s website Military OneSource also has useful information for armed forces personnel and their families concerning suicide prevention. Visit http://wdt.me/Hxt2sp to learn more.
Additional sources of information for military service members and veterans include the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (visit http://wdt.me/gT5fDY), National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (visit http://wdt.me/brteHg), Professional Risk Management Services (visit http://wdt.me/p3nyaC), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (visit http://wdt.me/LDeAdr), American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (visit http://wdt.me/rUZJ7N), Military.com (visit http://wdt.me/PoYt2D) and Defense Suicide Prevention Office (visit http://wdt.me/zPq2dm).
One website for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (visit http://wdt.me/MwvKq4) offers effective ideas for individuals who need help and those looking to assist others.
Veterans struggling with problems are advised to ask for help (don’t be afraid to let your friends know what you need when they ask; they want to help), find a support group (talk to other veterans who have gone through the same kind of trauma that you have), find custom services for your needs (access available resources) and make a safety plan (have a step-by-step plan ready for if/when you feel depressed, suicidal or in crisis so you can start at step one and continue through the steps until you feel safe), according to the website. People wishing to assist others should ask and listen (be an active part of your loved ones’ support systems and check in with them often; If a they show any warning signs for suicide, be direct; tell them it’s OK to talk about suicidal feelings; practice active listening techniques and let them talk without judgment), get them help and take care of yourself (don’t be afraid to get your loved one the help they might need) and be there (everyone deals with pain differently; a simple act of kindness to the veteran or service member in your life can help that person feel less alone).
This is vital information for people to have. In addition, the Defense Department should review its mental health services to ensure it has sufficient resources for military personnel and veterans. We all want to reverse the trend of suicides, so those who have served our nation in uniform need to know where they can turn to for the assistance they need.
We offer our condolences to the Fort Drum community in the light of these deaths. Individuals feeling overpowered by the strains of life should know that help is available, so please put it to good use.