ARLINGTON, Va. — As part of a continued focus on building resiliency and preventing suicide, Army National Guard leaders are encouraging Soldiers to reach out to others in their units and make a "Life Pledge" to support each other in difficult times.
"The Life Pledge is a pact between a Soldier and his or her battle buddy that says if I ever come into hard times, you'll be the one I contact before I do something hasty," said Army Capt. Brian Pennington, with the Army Guard's Soldier and Family Support Division at the National Guard Bureau.
The Life Pledge is part of the Army Guard's larger Risk Reduction Campaign Plan and rooted in opening multiple ways to provide help to Soldiers who need it, said Pennington, adding the pledge ties into what it means to be a Soldier.
"We have a connection as Soldiers to take care of each other," he said. "I think that's part of the oath you take when you raise your right hand, to take care of each other on a deeper level."
According to Army Guard figures, around 100 suicides have occurred annually within the Army Guard since 2009, when tracking of those numbers began. Suicide numbers have decreased overall since then, but spiked in 2013 and then declined in 2014, with 2015 seeing a slight rise, said Pennington.
Indications show that Soldiers are reaching out for help for themselves and others, said Army Lt. Gen. Timothy Kadavy, the director of the Army National Guard.
"We had a 30 percent increase in interventions between 2013 and 2014 and our numbers are an identical improvement for 2015," he said.
The goal is to improve those numbers further still.
"Of course, one life and loss to suicide is one too many," said Kadavy. "Regardless of whether the rate is going up or down, so long as a single Soldier takes his or her own life we owe it to the Soldiers we serve with to focus on how to prevent and reduce suicides within our ranks."
The Life Pledge is another aspect that reinforces that, he said.
As part of that pledge, Soldiers are given a card that has their pledge partner's contact information on one side and a list of additional resources on the opposite side. The intent, said Pennington, is to provide both a definitive connection as well as one reference point for Soldiers who may need help.
"It's a deeper sense of connection between battle buddies to take care of each other," said Pennington. "They're making a deeper commitment to each other to be there when times are bad."
The campaign also focuses on ways Soldiers can avoid potentially risky situations as well.
"We want to get Soldiers to really take that second thought and think about not just hurting themselves but also things like do I really want to drive drunk or get in the car with somebody who has been drinking," said Pennington.
The Life Pledge is voluntary, but commanders at all levels are encouraged to start that dialogue within their units, said Pennington, adding that commanders will be provided resources to open that conversation and answer questions Soldiers may have.
"We understand that not all commanders can talk about suicides—it can be a tough subject to talk about—or risky behavior in general," he said. "This just gives them that additional help to be able to do that."
Help for Soldiers is also available through a variety of additional resources, said Kadavy.
That includes the Guard Your Health website, www.guardyourhealth.com, which helps connect Soldiers with mental health care professionals and resources in their local areas, with resources available in all 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia.
Other programs, such as the Department of Defense's Give an Hour, connects at-risk Soldiers to trained clinicians who volunteer their professional time and the Vets for Warriors program provides free confidential outreach for Soldiers who need it.
"There are many more of these programs provided at the state and local level outside of the resources we have," said Kadavy, adding that resources such as chaplains, Family Assistance Centers and master resilience trainers and mental health specialists within the Army Guard also stand as available resources.
For Kadavy, it all ties back to the commitment made as Soldiers.
"We fight for our brothers and sisters to our left and our right," he said. "We don't let our team down. We don't leave our team and we don't leave anyone behind."