The Fort Lee observance of Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month officially got underway Sept. 4 with a kickoff breakfast and proclamation signing at the Family Life Center on Sisisky Boulevard.
Senior installation leaders in attendance included Maj. Gen. Rodney Fogg, CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general; Col. Hollie Martin, Fort Lee garrison commander; Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Perry III, CASCOM CSM; and CSM James House, garrison CSM. The commanding officers for the Ordnance, Quartermaster and Transportation corps’ also participated.
Signing the “Be There” Pledge was the first item on the morning’s agenda. The poster-sized document endorsed by attendees promised that leaders would support every member of the team; treat everyone with dignity and respect; intervene and not stand idly by; fight against the stigmatization of asking for help; and much more.
In welcome remarks, Martin made note of the 2019 campaign’s theme, “Be There Early to Build Hope,” and emphasized that it’s every leader’s responsibility to pay attention and know what’s going on down to the lowest ranks of their organizations. Suicide is a “complex problem,” she pointed out, and no idea or avenue of engagement to prevent it should be overlooked.
“Keep providing caring leadership,” the colonel requested. “… Keep creating high quality suicide prevention and awareness programs. Keep building bridges of hope for people who need it; the individuals who are hurting.”
The event’s featured speaker, Chaplain (Col) Terry Romine, senior installation chaplain, said his interest in suicide prevention began a long time ago when his sister, who had gone through a bad breakup, decided her life was not worth living and tried to kill herself.
“Fortunately, her choice of lethality wasn’t deadly enough and she … is still living today,” Romine said.
He described a separate incident as a young 27-year-old pastor in Arkansas when a member of his congregation said he was going to kill his wife and commit suicide. “What do you do with a statement like that?” he questioned. “At that time, I really had no idea, but I muddled my way through it, and it turned out OK.”
Fast forwarding through years of study and the things he’s experienced since joining the military clergy in 1995 – including four deployments and various division and Special Forces Group assignments – Romine now plays a mentoring and teaching role as a senior Army chaplain. He said his interest has extended beyond suicide prevention to “what healthy living looks like.”
“There is a term I use called pre-prevention, which I define as everything we do to promote resilience such as building stronger marriages, coaching to make better life decisions, earning and nurturing trust, and so on,” Romine said.
“Be There Early to Build Hope,” the campaign theme, points in that direction.
“As leaders, we need to recognize the points of risk for suicide; those high stress moments that challenge a person’s resilience. Examples include a bad breakup, separation from a spouse, a child custody battle, drug or alcohol abuse, negative legal actions, isolation, not fitting in and so on,” the chaplain observed.
It’s those times that a simple offer to talk can pay big dividends.
“Everybody needs attachment,” Romine insisted. “That goes beyond loving relationships between couples. Members of your team have to feel like they’re appreciated and that you recognize what they contribute, which is why we do productive things like performance counseling and morale-building activities such as unit picnics or organization days.”
Leaders must be accessible, responsive and engaged, he further noted. Soldiers are far more likely to seek help in environments devoid of “toxic and uncaring bosses.”
Romine dedicated another several minutes of his talk to “recognizing what right looks like.” For single Soldiers, healthy emotional signs include effortless interaction with others, a sense of humor, a willingness to fulfill work responsibilities, good military bearing and so on.
Additional positives for married individuals are one or more shared interests with their partner; they both should be connected with peers, unit members or other couples; and they should be able to resolve conflict and not “hold a grudge.”
“To be resilient and less prone to suicide, we all need to be at a good place in our lives,” Romine summarized. “If we fail to do that, and a crisis occurs that we’re expected to bounce back from, it only returns us to a place that’s still not healthy. Leaders also need to recognize what right looks like. With these indicators, we know we’re on the right path to building hope.”
Other planned events for the SP&AM observance include information booths in the Main Exchange Mall on Sept. 12, 16, 19, 23 and 24; a Suicide Prevention 5K Run on Sept. 14 (see details in this week’s calendar); a Choose Life Prayer Vigil on Sept. 18, 11:45 a.m., at Heritage Chapel; a special guest speaker on Sept. 25 at the Lee Theater; and a Disc Golf Tournament on Sept. 28 at Nowak Stadium. Look for further details in upcoming editions of the Fort Lee Traveller.
Military organizations across the installation also will conduct a wide array of activities to promote suicide awareness. For example, the Marine Detachment has scheduled company runs every Friday and a stand-down day event at the end of the month. Unit members are encouraged to capture photos of their events and send the best shots accompanied by a who-what-where-when description of the activity to ArmyFortLee.PAO@mail.mil so they can be highlighted on installation social media pages or published in the Traveller.