This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Four soldiers in the U.S. Army died by apparent suicide in Alaska in October, reversing what appeared to be a drop in suicides recorded at the state’s remote installations.
“Many of you already know that we lost four Arctic Angels in the past 30 days to the enemy of despair,” Maj. Gen. Brian Eifler and Command Sgt. Maj. Vern Daley wrote in a letter to the 11th Airborne Division, according to a Wednesday Military.com report. “We can never replace their loss nor fill the void they left behind. After a significant reduction from last year, these recent losses are a heart-breaking reminder that this battle is not over.”
The four soldiers, who apparently took their own lives last month, include three junior enlisted troops and a midlevel noncommissioned officer, according to the report, sparking an investigation and causing Army planners to rush mental health resources to Alaska bases.
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Leaders of troops in the state have taken multiple steps in an attempt to curb the spike in suicides, including instituting mandatory mental health screenings. While measures have seemingly reduced the rate of suicides among troops in the state, 17 service members took their own lives in Alaska last year.
Military service members, who are already at increased risk for mental health issues and suicide related to the stresses of military life and combat, are often under increased stress at assignments in Alaska. The bases in the state are some of the most remote in the military and offer few resources, while the harsh climate and long winters can often take an additional toll on service members’ mental health.
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The spike in suicides now risks stressing troops even more, though one soldier told Military.com that the issues have not reduced the pace of their training.
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“They were my friend, and things have been very bad for [the unit],” a soldier said of one of the suicides. “It was shocking, and we quickly went back to training. There wasn’t a lot of mourning time.”
While the Army has increased behavior health resources for soldiers in the state, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston, who has made tackling mental health among the ranks a priority of his tenure, stressed that leaders shouldn’t just rely on counseling to combat the issue.
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“It’s OK to seek help if you need help,” Grinston said at last month’s Association of the U.S. Army conference. “But I do want to caution you that that is not the panacea for all your problems.… I think when we use all the resources that we have, I think we’re all going to be in a better mental state. We can’t just use only one resource.”