Suicide rate among area soldiers drops

While military suicides hit a record high in 2012, Fort Benning officials said the deaths of local soldiers have declined over the last three years.

The post had only three of 182 Army suicides reported last year, continuing a decline from six in 2011 and 10 in 2010, said Denise Stephens, the suicide prevention program services manager on post. Benning totals come a day after the Pentagon figures showed 349 suicides among all active-duty troops last year. That total was up sharply from 301 in 2011.

Stephens said Tuesday that officials are very thankful for the decline.

"Fort Benning numbers do seem to be going kind of contrary to what the Army is experiencing," she said. "We are beginning to see a downward trend here locally."

Although the post had fewer suicides than other installations, Stephens said the deaths occurred on and off post and included veterans with service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"That trend continued in calendar year 2012," Stephens said of the deaths. "There were incidents both on the installation and in the community."

Fort Benning is part of the Training and Doctrine Command, one of the largest installations training soldiers for combat. After service in the Middle East, many combat soldiers have been reassigned to training and some are among the deaths.

"Our focus is on training," Stephens said. "We do have war veterans here. Unfortunately, we do see some incidents that do follow that trend."

To prevent suicides, Stephens said information is available to all soldiers whether you are a basic trainee or a veteran soldier being reassigned to Fort Benning. Information focuses on high-risk behavior, which includes abuse of substances, financial problems, trouble in relationships and behavioral health.

"We have programs to facilitate what we are seeing as some high-risk trends or factors in the Army," she said.

Part of the program to help soldiers includes a comprehensive soldier and family fitness program. It gives an individual a new way of looking at this situation that may be causing a problem.

"It's so much easier to think everything in our life is bad or negative when that is really not true," Stephens said. "All of us have struggles and all of us also have good things going on in our lives. It helps you to begin to look and focus more on the positive."

If you are assigned to Fort Benning, TRADOC requires you to get suicide prevention training twice a year. One program is called ACE, which stands for Ask, Care, Escort, and a second is ASIST, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training.

All soldiers attend the basic ACE course on prevention, which includes role playing and dealing with difficult questions. ASIST is a two-day program to help counselors, chaplains, military police officers, emergency personnel and even commanders.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.