First Army tackles stigma over suicide prevention at Arsenal stand down

With 300 active duty soldiers and civilians from First Army listening on Thursday morning, Vietnam veteran John Musgrave shares his heartbreaking story of service and sacrifice.

“I had two men die for me,” the former Marine recalled of being shot and rescued during an ambush. “They purchased my future by sacrificing my own.”

Still tattooed with his unit’s symbol, the Walking Dead, his long emergence from suicidal to survivor inspires each person in the audience.

“They hold us responsible,” said Army Chaplain Kevin Wilkinson. “We own that responsibility. We don’t shrink back from it.”

Reasons why First Army is holding a day-long stand down at the Rock Island Arsenal to deal with suicide prevention. It’s part of an Army directive to break the climbing suicide rate and remove the stigma from seeking help.

“That’s huge,” said Lieutenant General Mick Bednarek. “We all lead by example, and making a difference to our young soldiers that we are entrusted to lead really makes a big difference.”

The Army is reporting sharp increases in suicides, 38 in July alone. That’s after 283 confirmed suicides in 2011. The 2012 rate is likely to outpace those figures.

Also troubling is the fact that a majority of the suicides involve soldiers who have not deployed.

Those statistics are more than just numbers. It represents lives affected by a complex problem with no simple solution.

At First Army’s breakout discussion sessions, each encourages standing shoulder-to-shoulder on this national issue.

For Musgrave, who counsels others and writes, reaching out can save lives.

“Look at them beyond the uniform and understand that there is no blanket fix to the problem,” he said. “It is as varied as the individuals.”

Musgrave’s survival inspires others.

“You’ve got to understand where that pain has put them,’ he said.

Pain that’s putting First Army on guard. Especially important, since they serve thousands of reservists dealing with the stresses of deployments.

“We are on this problem, and we are making a difference,” Chaplain Wilkinson concluded. “We know we are.”

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