WASHINGTON -- In a service-wide "stand down," the Army has ordered soldiers to put aside their usual duties today and spend the time on suicide prevention training as the military struggles with a spike in the number of self-inflicted deaths this year.
The plan will focus on making sure troops know what behavioral health programs are available and helping them get over the embarrassment that keeps many from seeking help.
There are exceptions to today's stand down: Troops with duties such as combat operations in Afghanistan or medical duties in Army hospitals will schedule their training when possible.
"The Army has decided that this issue is so important to us that we're going to devote an entire day . . . that was otherwise devoted to something else and say, 'That's not as important as this,' " the Army's top enlisted man, Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler, said yesterday.
The Army is the largest of the services, it has the highest number of suicides, and it is the only branch planning the special training.
For the first seven months of 2012, the Army recorded 116 suicides among active-duty soldiers, officials reported last month. If that pace were maintained through December, the year's total would approach 200, compared with 167 total in 2011.
Suicidal behavior in the military is thought to be related to cumulative stress from combat duty as troops fought two simultaneous wars over the past decade. It also is believed linked to a range of other pressures such as marital and financial problems and health issues.
"The nation has asked our soldiers to carry a heavy load over the last 11 years, and they have not failed," Chandler said. "But suicide is an enemy we have yet to defeat."