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American Forces Press Service

Battaglia Asks Leaders to Engage, Troubled Troops to Reach Out

By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 4, 2012 – The military’s top enlisted leader wants service members to use September’s National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month as an opportunity to learn what to do when a fellow service member, family member or veteran reaches out for help.

Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, senior enlisted advisor to Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said service members who seek assistance -- and those who are in a position to offer it -- need to know that it’s OK not to be OK.

“We can still operate and function as effective service members [and] effective family members within our armed forces, within life [and] as members within society and not be 100 percent fit,” Battaglia said. “Like myself, for example. From some combat wounds and injuries over the years, I'm no longer 100 percent, and that's OK by me, because I understand that it's OK not to be OK.”

Thanks to the resilience programs such as Total Force Fitness, Battaglia added, he has been able to better assess his fitness levels and return his mind, body and spirit to a new optimal level of performance.

“I believe each person has their own threshold of when they may need help or assistance,” he said. “The moment that indicator lights up within yourself that [you] need some help and assistance or things are not right, … it is time to reach out.”

Service members, family members or veterans don’t have to wait until they feel suicidal to take advantage of the services offered by the military and the Veterans Affairs Department, Battaglia said. And the need to reach out can revolve around any sort of adversity or challenge that arises in a person’s life, he added.

But no matter what the situation may be, asking for assistance is the crucial first step, Battaglia said, and there are many places to turn to for help. Each service has specific programs shaped and tailored toward its service members and families, he said, and VA also has programs that provide for veterans.

The Military Crisis Line -- 1-800-273-8255 [Call: 1-800-273-8255] -- is “one common denominator throughout the entire department,” Battaglia said. Service members, family members and veterans in need of assistance, either for themselves or for a loved one, can call the number day or night to speak to someone.

“That someone, who will answer will be a medical health official … with the background and expertise to make some immediate assessments,” he said. “That phone call has complete confidentiality.”

Battaglia said he uses the acronym “NOW” to educate service members about suicide prevention.

The N means “there's NO problem too big that should cause an individual to take his or her own life” he said. “If you have a problem that you can't solve, come to someone -- a leader, a chaplain, a commander -- and, by God, we can solve it together.”

The O is for OUTREACH, he said. “Outreach is literally a fingertip away -- and that outreach can come from texting your team leader to knocking on your chaplain's door or even notifying an immediate family member,” he explained, “but outreach is literally a fingertip away.”

As importantly, he said, the W stands for WE care.

“As leaders, we understand and clearly recognize that as members of this professional organization, our men and women have committed to our nation and we are committed to them,” he said. “This is an equal opportunity issue; it affects everyone. So whether it is junior leaders, senior leaders or nonleaders, anyone who comes abreast of a person who looks or appears like they may want to hurt themselves, it's time to engage and act, immediately.”

Leaders have the added responsibility of dealing with the aftermath of a death by suicide, Battaglia said, which can further strip away at morale, cohesion and unit readiness if left untreated.

“As leaders, we are taught, molded and developed to be problem solvers,” he said. “Problem solving is good, but a goal for all of us is to be the problem preventer. Our ultimate objective [in prevention] is essentially removing suicide out of one’s decision making process or as a possible course of action in solving a troop’s personal problem.”

There’s no one reason or indicator that leaders can rely upon, in capturing the “why” of suicide, Battaglia said. “However,” he added, “active leadership engagement is an area where many leaders, specifically my peer group, believe we can improve.”

Engaged leaders will be better able to detect and help troubled troops, Battaglia said.

“There's so much time spent together that leaders will better know their people and can pick up changes from one’s normal disposition or behavior,” he said.

And it’s a year-round job, the sergeant major added.

“While September is officially designated as Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, this issue is so important to the health of our force that we need to treat every month as suicide prevention and awareness month,” he said.

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