By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
National Guard Bureau
WASHINGTON (11/1/10) -- With the spike in servicemember suicides, the Army should put the same emphasis on emotional fitness as it does on physical fitness, the acting director of the Army National Guard said here last week.
“The Army National Guard, together with the Army, is seeing a crisis in the number of suicides,” Army Maj. Gen. Raymond Carpenter said here at the 2010 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition on Oct. 27. “For us in the Army Guard, we are doubling the number of suicides we had last year.”
The majority of Army National Guardmembers who commit suicide: have not deployed; 85 percent are traditional Guardmembers; 61 percent are in grades E-1 through E-4; 66 percent are between 17 and 29-years-old; 93 percent are male; 86 percent are Caucasian and most are single, Carpenter said.
While there is no overnight fix, “the best time to plant a tree is now,” Carpenter said, urging quick action, to include instilling resiliency in servicemembers from day one.
“We have raised a generation that doesn’t come with the coping skills that my generation had,” he said.
Carpenter’s military career spans more than 40 years and five decades, beginning with his 1967 enlistment in the South Dakota National Guard. His father was a World War II veteran.
“The generation we see right now, if there’s a significant financial event or a significant emotional or relationship event, these young people think that taking their life is a viable option, a viable alternative,” Carpenter said. “That’s unthinkable in my perspective on this world. We’ve got to build some resilience inside of this generation.
“Just like we tell people when they join the Army, we’re going to make you physically strong, we can also pitch, if we do this right, that we’re going to make you emotionally strong and build resilience into you.”
In the meantime, other pieces of the solution for the Army National Guard include leadership at every level and the addition of master resiliency trainers, Carpenter said.
“It comes down to leadership,” he said. “It comes down to the squad leader’s responsibility for his squad, the section leader’s responsibility for his section.
“That squad leader and that section leader needs to know something about the people that are … in his or her ranks.”
Carpenter demonstrated his attention to his staff by sharing some details about them.
“I don’t care where you’re at in this business: You’ve got a squad,” he said, echoing a theme that has been emerging from other Defense Department, officer and enlisted leaders in recent months.
Leaders should know whether troops are married or single, employed, in school and experiencing problems, he said.
The Army National Guard is part of the Army’s Master Resiliency Trainer program, with 100 slots and MRTs in every state, but that is “far short of what we need to have,” he said.
With a goal of one MRT for every battalion, the Guard is standing up its own training site at the Army Guard’s Professional Education Center at Camp Joseph T. Robinson in North Little Rock, Ark., he said.
The Army Guard also will offer resiliency training to families and Family Support Groups, he said.
“It is one of the tools in the kitbag that we can use to solve the problem,” he said.
Like other components of the armed forces, the Army Guard also is tackling post traumatic stress better than has historically been the case.
World War II spawned the Greatest Generation, of which Carpenter’s father was a member.
“He was an alcoholic, and – in retrospect – he was an undiagnosed case of PTS,” Carpenter said. “There was little information about PTS or … treatment. … Unfortunately, our entire family lived with that problem as we grew up.”
By the Vietnam era, PTS was better recognized, “but the stigma attached to it was huge,” Carpenter recalled.
Today’s armed forces are more enlightened.
“We not only recognize PTS, but we aggressively treat the condition,” Carpenter said. “We have tried our best to reduce the stigma, and we understand how debilitating it is and afford a percentage disability for severe cases.
“It is a much more enlightened view of the problem, encouraging people to admit their problem and to seek help, than in former generations – a dramatic change in our culture. We have come a long way.”
The Army Guard has also contributed to addressing a national education problem, Carpenter said.
About 9,000 young people will graduate in the next year from an Army National Guard program that offers a General Equivalency Diploma, and the Guard’s Patriot Academy in Indiana is graduating up to 500 more each year with high school diplomas.
“Education is our future,” Carpenter said.
Failure to complete high school is one factor in the decrease in the number of people eligible to enlist.
“Seventy percent of the young people in the target population, 17 to 24 across this country are not eligible to join the United States Army,” Carpenter said. “That’s a heck of a commentary on our society, and we all need to re-dedicate ourselves and to put our shoulder against the wheel here to solve that problem because, I’ll tell you, it also looks like the decline of a nation, frankly.”
Carpenter also said the active Army, National Guard and Reserves are closer and have achieved more seamless integration than previously in their history.
“We’ve been at this war for nine years,” Carpenter said. “The three components of the Army are as close as they have ever been in my career, which spans some 40-plus years.
“The Army National Guard is not the Army National Guard it was 10 years ago. It is perhaps not even the Army National Guard it was five years ago. We have had the experience of nine years of war,” he said.
“The resilience of the … volunteerism inside of our great nation has sustained the fight.”
Within the Army Guard, 432,000 Soldiers have deployed since Sept. 11, 2001, and 47,000 are alerted, mobilized, deployed or de-mobilizing right now, he said, while 634 members of the National Guard have made the ultimate sacrifice.
“Nearly 60 percent of the Soldiers in the Army National Guard wear a right shoulder patch and are veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn or Operation Enduring Freedom,” he said.
Yet, at 362,015 Citizen-Soldiers, the Army National Guard is well above its authorized end strength of 358,200 and has a 106 percent retention rate.
“I read that as customer satisfaction,” Carpenter said. “If those Soldiers were not happy with what they were doing, they wouldn’t stay with us. … The recruiting statistics in the Army National Guard are phenomenal.”
Overseas contingencies are just one part of the Army Guard story.
“The state mission – response to the governors in emergencies – is a key role that we play,” Carpenter said.
About 85 percent of natural and manmade emergencies within the states are responded to and taken care of at local level, he said. About 11 percent call for a state level response, to include the National Guard.
“Only 4 percent requires a response at a national level,” Carpenter said. “The investment that we make in the capability and the capacity at the state level pays great dividends for us.”