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Only one soldier suicide under review at Fort Benning, officials said

At a time when suicides are surging among active-duty soldiers nationwide, only one suicide involving a Fort Benning soldier has been reported this year, officials said Monday.

Denise Stephens, the suicide prevention program services manager, released the lone death more than a week after a report showed 154 troops, including one soldier living in Columbus, died during the first 155 days of this year.

The local soldier took his life in a home off St. Marys Road in May but it could take up to six months for the Army to confirm the shooting death. The Muscogee County Coroner’s office ruled the death a suicide.

Fort Benning had six soldier suicides last year and 10 in 2010, the highest since 1999.

Stephens and Sgt. Maj. Mark Moore, the garrison sergeant major at Fort Benning, said training for soldiers and outreach programs have made a difference in soldier suicides.

“What I come away with from suicide prevention training is that it takes everybody,” Moore said. “When you hear it takes a village to raise a child, it takes the entire community, the entire team in order to prevent suicide.”

According to the Army, soldiers most likely to commit suicide were white, between the ages of 21 and 30, and in the enlisted ranks. Gunshots were the most common method, at about 70 percent of the suicides, followed by hangings, at 19 percent.

To help soldiers, Stephens said the post uses a holistic and multi-disciplinary approach. A soldier, family members and Department of the Army civilians are surrounded by resources from health providers, the garrison, suicide prevention programs, master resiliency training, chaplains and programs for single soldiers.

“It’s wonderful to talk about all the programs,” Stephens said. “The hardest thing is when you are hurting, when you are feeling overwhelmed by what’s going on to realize there is hope out there. There is someone you can talk to.”

Three Army-approved programs are at the center of suicide prevention: ACE, which stands for Ask, Care, Escort; ACE-SI, which includes the basic program plus suicide intervention; and ASIST, or Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training.

Stephens said all soldiers attend the basic ACE course on prevention. ACE-SI is a four-hour program which targets junior leaders and first-line supervisors who learn to intervene with someone at risk. “You learn exercises, role playing and how you ask difficult questions,” Stephens said.

ASIST, a 16-hour two-day program, is at the top of the list. The training helps counselors, chaplains, military police officers, emergency personnel, drill sergeants and even commanders. Fort Benning has trained more than 500 in the ASIST program.

“When we say we are training at Fort Benning, we are training at Fort Benning,” Stephens said.

Moore praised the training efforts for helping him cope after several deployments to Iraq.

“My wife looked at me one day and said, ‘Hey, knucklehead, you aren’t sleeping at night, not getting any rest,’” Moore said. “‘You need to see somebody. Something’s not right.’”

Talking with someone made a difference, he said. “I continue to serve today.”

Moore is confident that soldiers with a problem can get help.

“Any soldier that’s having an issue, we have more than enough capability out there with folks for them to go and talk to,” Moore said.

Monday, Stephens, who has worked in suicide prevention since 2009, was presented an Achievement Medal for Civilian Service for leading the installation’s suicide prevention program. The citation stated that her inspired leadership, teamwork and dedicated diligence were critical to the successful prevention of suicides and high-risk behavior on Fort Benning.

Stephens said it takes a team effort. I have amazing trainers and chaplains to help me and more than anything the families and the soldiers,” she said. “There is help. It’s hard, but it can get better. It’s what makes a difference.”