Story by Timothy Hale
U.S. Army Reserve Command
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - In the first eight weeks of 2013, the Army Reserve suffered the loss of 11 soldiers from its ranks.
Not from combat deaths but from suicide.
While there are no clear answers as to why soldiers, family members or Army civilians take their own lives, Army Reserve leaders are focusing on celebrating life while encouraging and embracing those who need help.
The Army Reserve “We Care” campaign is challenging every leader, across the force, to engage in this fight for life. “We Care” is designed to smash communication barriers in order to help soldiers, their families, and Army civilians cope with stress, depression and family struggles.
“We need to let everyone understand that it’s all about promoting life,” said José Mojica, the Army Reserve Suicide Prevention program manager at Fort Bragg, N.C.
“When we go to the other extreme, that is all a negative,” he said. “We need to get away from that negative and keep it on the positive side.”
The biggest obstacle has been and continues to be the stigma associated with seeking help, Mojica said.
“To tell you that the stigma does not exist is incorrect; it’s out there,” he said. “We’re trying to get the message out … that it’s OK to ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness. As a matter of fact, it should be looked at as being strong, as being courageous to ask for help.”
Despite what many soldiers may think, Mojica said that commanders are willing to listen and help.
“Commanders are approachable. Do not get intimidated,” he said. “They want to help, they are engaged, but they can’t help if you don’t tell them you need help.”
Mojica said that he and Army Reserve leaders are getting the word out through suicide prevention program managers, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, or ASIST, to let soldiers, families, and Army civilians know “it’s not going to hurt anyone’s career if you come out to ask for help.”
He said commanders want to be involved and are willing to “roll up their sleeves” to help soldiers. However, the geographic dispersion of Army Reserve units and soldiers serving in those units can be a challenge when they only see soldiers one weekend a month.
Mojica said the Army Reserve is reaching out to local communities to find out what resources are available to assist soldiers and their families.
“It’s about getting the communities involved,” he said. “Because, these are citizen-soldiers and the community must also engage, but they cannot engage if we don’t reach out to them and commanders are doing exactly that.”
Mojica said it really is about the whole community coming together to help soldiers and their families.
In the end, “We Care” involves everyone communicating with each other, Mojica said. If soldiers are uncomfortable going to a commander, there are other outlets where their voices and concerns can be heard. They include chaplains, battle buddies, or even organizations found in local communities.
“When they hear of an issue, they cannot hide that issue. They need to make it known,” he said. “Because we’re talking about a person’s life.”
Holding on to potentially negative information could result in more people being seriously injured, he added.
“We cannot afford that,” Mojica said. “I’d rather rule on saying something and saving that soldier’s life and maybe, saving the lives of others, than holding back.
“Ask the right questions to get the right answers. That’s what it’s all about,” he said.