The U.S. Army put normal operations on hold Thursday in a service-wide “stand-down” for a day of mandatory suicide prevention training to try and combat record numbers of suicides among active-duty troops.
“The nation has asked our soldiers to carry a heavy load over the last 11 years, and they have not failed,” Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler told a news conference Wednesday on the eve of the training. “But suicide is an enemy we have yet to defeat.”
Army figures show 26 soldiers died in probable suicides in July, a record number. And the Army has reported 116 suicides among active-duty soldiers through the end of July this year, threatening to surpass the 167 reported suicides in 2011.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that lowering the military’s high suicide rate is a top priority. Panetta told USA Today earlier this month, “we have to take care of our family members, we’re talking about men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect this country, and I think we have to do everything possible, to try to make sure we protect them.”
Experts believe many military suicides are related to cumulative stress from repeated combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During Thursday’s “stand-down,” troops will not perform their usual duties in order to attend training sessions at Army posts around the world aimed at educating them about the various behavioral health programs available.
The suicide training activities are open to troops’ families as well as the Army’s civilian employees.
Some troops are exempt from Thursday’s training. Those taking part in combat operations in Afghanistan or medical duties at Army hospitals will schedule their training at a later date.
Troops in Europe had their suicide prevention training day on September 20.
The Army is the largest branch of the U.S. military and has the highest number of suicides.