Friday, July 1, 2011

Tragedy reminds us to redouble suicide prevention efforts

By Maj. Gen. Maria L. Britt,
Commanding General of the Georgia Army National Guard
July 1, 2011

On 9 July 2009, Spc. Joey Roberts of the 935th Aviation, Intermediate Maintenance Detachment, was laid to rest. Specialist Roberts took his own life. Every loss is tragic, but a suicide is especially tragic. While nothing we can do will bring this Soldier back, we owe it to him and his family to learn from this tragedy.

Specialist Roberts was a white male, 23 years old, who had never deployed. This describes a significant number of suicide cases across the Army National Guard. There are indications he had made previous suicide threats; but the unit did not know about this (and really had no way of knowing that).

I mention this to stimulate organizational learning. The best programs and resources cannot address information that is not provided to our units. Looking at this situation based on what I know today, I do not see "missed signals" or apathy. Looking forward, I believe we need to take the following steps:
  • Communicate and educate. Talk to your Soldiers and FRGs about this case and our Resiliency Programs. Families and friends of our Soldiers see them far more often than their first line leaders.
  • Encourage Soldiers to ask for help when/if it is needed without fear of being labeled. They need to know that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • Redouble your efforts to encourage engaged "battle buddies." Our Warrior Ethos reminds us that we must never leave a fallen comrade.
I encourage your feedback and cross-talk on this important topic. There is no "silver bullet" or "school solution" in this area.

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