Army-wide stand down looks to decrease alarming suicide rates in the army

On a cold night in Italy in 1982, the current commanding general at Fort Leonard Wood found himself alone with a soldier who wanted to kill himself. Only 30 years ago, Maj. Gen. Mark Yenter was just out of ranger school and without a way to contact anyone for help.

In a country he knew little about, Maj. Gen. Yenter was tasked with something that was bigger than himself: coming up with the right words to say that could determine this soldier's life.

This is not a rare incident in the Army. Not in 1982 and especially not now. And on Sept. 27, in recognition of the Army-wide Suicide Prevention Stand Down, Fort Leonard Wood held a unique session to help soldiers prepare for situations like the one Yenter was in.

In August, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III ordered the Army-wide stand down, in recognition of the staggering statistics of suicide in the army and realizing that more work needed to be done to educate soldiers who found themselves in situations like Yenter did so many years ago.

In 2012 alone, the Army reported that there have been 131 potential active-duty suicides, and 80 have been confirmed as suicides and 51 remain under investigation. On Sept. 27, the Army reported that in the month of August, there were 16 potential suicides and three have been confirmed as suicides.

On Thursday, Yenter spoke to the large crowd of soldiers about his terrifying experience in Italy and offered advice for soldiers finding themselves in a similar situation.

"I made a decision that night." Yenter said to the large crowd of soldiers at Fort Leonard Wood. "I said to myself I am not going to leave this soldier. "

Fortunately on that night, Yenter was able to talk through this soldier's problems and never left this soldier's side. He could hear that the issues were bigger than this soldier, but he knew they were resolvable.

"You've got to know your soldiers," said Yenter. "You've got to look them in the eye and be able to tell what's wrong."

Russell Strand, a retired U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division special agent and the current chief of the Family Advocacy Law Enforcement Training Division at the U.S. Army Military Police School, spoke to the soldiers about what causes trauma and how to help victims deal with it in the right way.

"We need to acknowledge their pain. We need to understand their experience," said Strand. "Not just what happened —we need to know what they remember from their five senses about their traumatic experience."

Strand explained how the traditional masculine way of dealing with feelings — by not really dealing with them — ultimately increases the pain caused by the trauma.

"We want you to understand what's important to them [the victims]." Strand said. "Asking, 'what was the most difficult part for you?' is not a bad question. It will help you get them help."

According to the Center for Disease Control, the Army has had the highest proportional number of suicides compared to the other services and 95 percent of all suicides in the military are male.

Yenter and Strander both stressed throughout the session that now matter how much trauma a soldier is going through — there are methods for helping them.

"We are a value- based organization. We should never leave a soldier behind because we should care," he said. "There is hope. We just have to be able to listen."