Letters to the Editor

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MILITARY: Training needed to prevent suicide

Letter by Lonnie V. Scott, Gig Harbor on June 22, 2012 at 1:11 pm with 12 Comments »
June 22, 2012 1:14 pm

Re: “JBLM committee working to prevent soldier suicides” (TNT, 6-22).

I retired from the Navy as the command chaplain at Submarine Group 9/NSSC Bangor in 2007. Shortly thereafter I was asked to help train Army personnel at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (then Fort Lewis), as a volunteer, in Applied Suicide Interventionist Skills Training (ASIST) alongside Gary Ouellette. I did this for about two years.

My observations were that while ASIST is a highly effective program, the best in the world, Army units would pull soldiers from the training for multitudes of reasons. Gary and I, along with a temporary assistant, were constantly frustrated when a roster of 24 would have seven or eight show up.

Secondly, unless JBLM suicide prevention officer Vicky Duffy has trained people working with/for her, the “unit” is way undermanned. The concept of a suicide prevention committee is good, but it is the soldier’s battle buddy, spouse, roommate, friend, etc., who has eyes and ears on a soldier suffering pain, frustration, anger or depression, and needs to know how to help, and thus is trained. Often a well-meaning member of the chain of command talks with the soldier but doesn’t recognize the signs because of a lack of training and a focus on the mission.

A lot of money is spent equipping soldiers with Kevlar, night vision goggles, weaponry, functional uniforms, etc. A few more dollars spent on training people in ASIST to save those same lives will be money well spent. Intervention, along with prevention, is the key.

Leave a comment Comments → 12
  1. truthbusterguy says:

    Sorry Chaplin but I have to disagree. Having spent years in the military at a time we had the draft and then an all volunteer military I have a different observation.

    The quality of men/women recruited has degraded in time. The military has had to lower standards for moral stability and educational background to meet recruitment quotas.

    The result is proportionally more people in the military that would not be there if standards were higher. We recruit people that carry with them emotional baggage and when under stress they crack more easily. I remember when men were men and now we have to coddle the weak minded to keep them enlisted. We invent mental diseases to blame for the defective minds we are now forced to recruit.

    We need less compassion, more size 13’s and a return to high standards for recruitment. I love the military but a return to the draft would fix a lot of what is wrong in the armed forces.

    Sorry for being harsh but the truth is harsh. The softminded out there will name call me but the old school types will mostly agree.

  2. SwordofPerseus says:

    Bravo Chaplin, well said. What we need is more compassion and less “Size 13’s” as some ill informed people would believe. This so called war against terror, has dragged on for ten inexcusable wasteful years. And to blame the breakdown of the military moral and spirit on poor quality of recruits is criminal and cruel. Many of the flag waving, pseudo patriots will miss your well meaning and clear headed points Lonnie, just consider the source and carry on sailor.

  3. Those w/Top Security clearances, like I had, will lose or have clearances suspended if we ask for help with depression, etc. Suffer in silence to retain our job!

  4. NotPoliticallyCorrect says:

    Truthbuster, I agree with you for the most part. Suicide in the military can be greatly reduced with screening during recruitment and a lot of more size 13’s during Basic. Those that can not handle it during that time, should be immediately discharged. Let the Drill Sergeants put those boots to work, and see how things change.

    This is not one of those kids sports events, where they do not keep score and everybody is a winner. Just so they can feel good about themselves. Military life is not for all those who sign up, and these problems can be identified a lot sooner.

    SwordPers- Why is it you can have a soldier weighing damn near 300 lbs, arriving at his first duty assignment right after basic training? Or have a soldier that acts like he or she has never seen a rifle? Just to give a couple examples for you.

  5. SwordofPerseus says:

    How about everyone before their 25th birthday(M and F) has to serve two years of service to their country, either military, civil service or peace corps. In exchange for a college education and a sense of duty and belonging to the group. No exceptions everyone serves, it would be a great way to unify the country as everyone would have essentially the same experience in life and maybe we could change things for the better. Maybe even end the continuous wars of aggression we have initiated since WWII.

  6. Cute how you threw the free college in there. Otherwise I agree. Make people serve in some capacity, but not the military.

    There are huge benefits to being all volunteer. Imagine the problems if they (military) were forced to train the unwilling?

  7. Frankenchrist says:

    Borg, wrong. You will not lose your TS/SCI for seeking mental health support.

  8. Chaplin how do you train someone for seeing someone killed especially if it’s your friend. They only way is to train everyone as the Navy seals do even they have major drop outs

  9. Franken: 5 year reinvestigation, my TS/SBI/SCI was temporarily suspended due to mental health help after Desert Shield/Storm….:..

  10. Toocan,

    You can’t ‘train’ someone for seeing their friend killed. What can be done is provide competent mental/emotional/spiritual care for them afterwards.
    When looking at highly trained groups such as SEALs, they are trained to focus, to concentrate on the mission at hand. High levels of training helps, but in the end, they are still human.

    Chaplain Scott

  11. The quality of recruits has been discussed for decades. The issue really came to the surface during the Vietnam War, and the draft brought in many undesireables, such as drug addicts. The truth is, we have to use who we are given. Utilizing Size 13s, as we know, is not an option.
    Conscripted service, I believe, is a good idea. However, as in the draft, you would still bring in many undesireables, including those who don’t want to be in.
    Personally, I think continuing to offer the education and other benefits draws in a crowd of people, most of whom desire to achieve and better themselves. We need to acknowledge that the vast majority of Soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and coasties are high quality people. We tend to focus on the ones who aren’t, and they are in the minority.

  12. cclngthr says:

    I agree with truthbusterguy to a degree. When we had the draft, military personnel were acting like adults and behaved accordingly. Adults were demanded to do certain things and were able to do those things because they were raised with discipline and ordered to get decent grades in school before they became adults.

    We did not have ADHD or ADD; they were disciplined enough to learn to behave as everyone else is expected to. We also did not have other conditions because people were taught to cope with it without complaining.

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