Suicide Prevention Remains Ongoing Battle, Senior Official Says
By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 13, 2013 The Defense Department and the military services have made inroads in suicide prevention, but work remains to be done, the vice director of the Joint Staff, told an audience of military chaplains here this week.
Army Maj. Gen. Frederick S. Rudesheim addressed the Chaplains’ Resilience and Suicide Prevention Forum at the Pentagon on Sept. 10 to mark the observance of World Suicide Prevention Day.
“All the services are focused and engaged on preventing suicide and enhancing resilience, and have been for a while,” Rudesheim said. “And we continually try to think of new and better ways to improve on our efforts. But I think there are a few things that haven’t changed over the years. We’ve been working this a long time.”
Many decisions can be made at the policy level, and programs can be executed, but ultimately, he said, “it’s at the very lowest level where we’re making a difference -- or not.”
An important factor to remember in suicide prevention is that it’s personal, Rudesheim told the chaplains. “It’s [about] knowing the soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines, civilians, … and chaplains are great at that,” he said. “Chaplains know their folks. You build rapport beforehand.
The general said he appreciates chaplains for their immediate and direct contact with troops.
“As I’ve come up in the ranks, I’ve always gone to the chaplains to figure out how things are going in the unit,” Rudesheim said. “The chaplains will tell me straight, and tell me what’s on soldiers’ minds, what’s going right, and what’s going wrong.”
But suicide prevention is a longstanding effort in the military, he said. “It is not going to end. There’s “no finish to it,” he said. “There is no ‘We finally beat this.’ I don’t mean to be a negative force, but I’m telling you we can drive down percentages, we can work this as hard as possible, and we need to.”
Suicide prevention is not an issue that calls for a surge, but rather is something that is done as a matter of course, Rudesheim said.
“This is something we have to do as part of who we are, … because it’s going to be with us,” he added. “There are external factors that drive things up and down, [and] … there will be setbacks and challenges, but the fact of the matter is we’re in the fight all the time.
“It’s a constant effort and something we grow up knowing,” he continued. “If we don’t, there's something wrong with our upbringing -- and I’m talking about professional growth as leaders.”
Rudesheim told the chaplains that suicide prevention must reach down to individuals directly and “grab them” on a personal level.
“We’ve made inroads. Some of the services have brought down their numbers,” the general said. “But there’s no declaring victory. There is just the fight, because it’s what we owe our soldiers, airmen, [sailors] and Marines.”