By Staff Sgt. Keith Anderson, 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs
He had received all the mandatory training and watched all the suicide-prevention videos, but was not prepared when his best friend took his own life.
“We were like Family,” said Sgt. Oronde Foster, barracks management noncommissioned officer, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. “He was always at the house. We worked on cars together. Our kids played together.”
His friend, a 23-year-old sergeant in the brigade, committed suicide in 2014 – one of 288 active-duty military personnel who took their own life that year.
“There were no signs,” Foster said. “That day we talked about his plans to get a new apartment with a pool and to become a drill sergeant. That evening, there were strange messages on his Facebook. I was calling him and couldn’t get through. I called his mom and found out what happened.”
While there were no signs, there were risk factors, Foster explained.
“He was in the Advanced Leader’s Course and comes home on a Saturday morning and finds out there’s an order saying he can’t see his wife and kids,” he said.
Foster said Soldiers need to watch for these types warning signs and risk factors, and ensure those that need help get counseling or, for example, place Soldiers temporarily in the barracks to ease tensions after a domestic dispute.
“They should be taken to counseling; find out what happened before the incident,” he said.
But everything can’t be solved though Army programs, he added.
“I know some people say the Army should do everything, but some things the Army can’t fix,” Foster said. “It’s up to us as individuals to look out for each other. And follow up.”
The Army has set aside September as Suicide Prevention Month, and at every level units are reaching out to those that are hurting.
Soldiers in the Ironhorse brigade are preparing for an October decisive action rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California; loading equipment, vehicles and supplies. But despite a high operational tempo, Soldiers are also pausing to talk about stressors and how to help someone considering suicide.
“Every Soldier should know that he or she can tell anyone that ‘I am hurting; I am suicidal,’” said Chap. (Maj.) Jamison Bowman, the brigade chaplain for 1st BCT. “It’s not enough to brief suicide prevention monthly or quarterly, there needs to be a constant invitation for help.”
Soldiers should talk to someone before the problems become too big to handle, said Albert Doepner, a Military Family Life counselor with 1st BCT.
“Hopefully, I can talk to people before their problems get too serious,” he said. “We can do some problem solving.”
Talking with the Military Family Life counselor is confidential, explained Doepner, adding that the counselor is also available to talk to Family members.
The efforts of those taking action to help those in need means that there are success stories among those who considered suicide.
“I’m a very outgoing person,” said Spc. Eric Batten, an automated logistics specialist with Forward Support Company J, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st BCT. “I always try to make people smile. When I was depressed, I was not talking; pushing people aside. I stopped hanging out with friends and stopped eating.”
Batten said Family and relationship issues had become overwhelming for him.
“I was in my room all the time thinking and missing meals – in the back of my head coming to conclusions of ending my own life,” Batten said. “My NCO, he noticed there was something wrong with me, and referred me to the chaplain. The chaplain asked me what my life goals were, and I realized I hadn’t thought about it. I’m actually doing better now only because the chaplain helped me realize I have goals I want to accomplish and that I do matter.”
Over time, and with the help of others – including his mother and friends – Batten said he is now looking to the future.
“I want to go to school to become a veterinarian,” he said. “Next month I go to the promotion board.”
There are many venues for getting help, including the Military Crisis Line which provides confidential support 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1) and online chat and text assistance at 838255. In Europe, call 00800 1273 8255 or DSN 118. In Korea, call 0808 555 118 or DSN 118. Additionally, those wanting to learn about different avenues of assistance can go to www.militarycrisisline.net.