Army Top Brass Visits Fort Riley to Help Combat Suicide Rate
FORT RILEY, Kan. — The suicide rate among America’s military has been described as “epidemic,” and on Friday some of the U.S. Army’s top brass paid a visit to Fort Riley to work on ways to help the physical and mental health issues facing today’s soldiers.
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Lloyd Austin III and other senior military leaders were on the base as part of a special assignment looking at ways to deal with the military’s high suicide rate. The officers met privately with some of the 18,000 soldiers based at Fort Riley, and heard about serious issues ranging from sexual harassment to post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It’s about engaging our soldiers early on,” said Gen. Austin about sexual assault and suicide. “And it is indeed a real enemy because we’re losing soldiers to this fight.”
According to Pentagon statistics, there were 154 U.S. military suicides in the first 155 days of this year alone. Army officials say that they can help decrease that rate, but only if they improve communication between soldiers and their superiors.
“A lot of soldiers don’t feel that their leadership is approachable when they first meet them because of the rank,” said Staff Sgt. James Sackett. “They’re intimidated.”
Ssgt. Sackett suffered a severe head injury while in combat in Iraq four years ago. He says that if the military is going to achieve its goal and produce more healthy, well-balanced soldiers, then more leaders must reach out to the troops – before it’s too late.
“Make it easy for the soldiers to seek the help, make it more approachable,” said Ssgt. Sackett. “Make it where it’s not going to be detrimental to their career.”
It’s a task that senior Army officers say that they’re up to.
“We watch out for one another on the battlefield,” said Brig. Gen. Donald MacWillie, Fort Riley’s senior commander. “We’re gonna do it at home.”