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CAMP CASEY, South Korea — For many senior commanders who rose through the ranks, authority itself was reason enough for respect.

Young soldiers today might be polite to an authority figure, but they’re a lot more likely to size up that person while determining how much respect he or she deserves.

It’s one of the differences that researchers who study Generation Y explained to colonels and sergeants major at three-hour training sessions across South Korea last week.

Each three-speaker presentation focused largely on the personality traits of soldiers born since 1978 — broadly labeled as Generation Y, or the millennials — and how those traits and character values differ from Depression-era children, baby boomers, Generation X and others.

However, part of the training focused on suicide, a topic of particular interest to commanders since a 2nd Infantry Division soldier’s suicide in December made at least three during 2007.

Beginning this week, Army chaplains will be disseminating new program information on suicide to their units.

Supervisors at all levels need to look beyond physical wounds when considering the fitness of their forces, said Lt. Col. Wayne Boyd, a chaplain and behavioral health program manager at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

“These emotional wounds are just as important,” Boyd said during a session Tuesday at Camp Casey.

To do that, they have to create a climate in which soldiers feel comfortable talking about suicide, depression and other health issues.

It’s the difference between a commander who is the first to volunteer for counseling as an example to his troops, versus the leader who wants to immediately know who in his unit is taking mental health prescriptions, Boyd said.

However, commanders should also consider the broader traits of Generation Y when evaluating the best way to motivate, teach and lead their soldiers.

Presenter professor Tracy Russo of the University of Kansas described Generation Y as generally wanted by their parents, sheltered, confident, team-oriented, conventional, pressured and electronically wired.

One colonel strongly disagreed with the team-oriented description, saying his soldiers spent too much time alone behind a computer screen.

Younger soldiers at Camp Casey who had not attended the presentation told Stars and Stripes that interaction with leaders could go either way.

“It all depends on leadership,” said Pfc. Fernando Cruz, 20. “If you’re not a good supervisor, you’re not going to get us to work well as a group.”

Cruz and others generally agreed with Russo’s description of their age group. Some added “more open-minded,” “procrastinators” and “outspoken” to that list.

Presenter Maj. Timothy Mallard, a chaplain, said that loyalty to friends — as opposed to an institution or ideal, like some past generations — was generally the paramount value among the 17 to 27 age group.

Cruz agreed that most soldiers would back their friends, even if it meant damage to something greater. But there is a limit, soldiers said; they would turn in a friend for murder, but probably not for cheating.

Soldiers also said they saw mild, occasional depression as relatively normal in their peer group, but said they’d feel uncomfortable asking about suicidal thoughts.

“If I thought someone came across that way, I probably wouldn’t ask them directly,” said Pvt. Bradley McNeal, 22, of 6th Battalion, 37th Field Artillery. “I’d probably say something like, ‘Hey, you’re not that stupid, are you?’”

Counselors recommend that people concerned about potentially suicidal friends ask them directly if they are thinking about killing themselves, pointing out that sometimes just saying it aloud can reduce pressure on someone with suicidal thoughts.

Gen Y in a nutshell

Presenters on Generation Y — loosely defined as people born between 1978 and 2000 — described these generally shared cultural traits:

l Much like WWII veterans, their historical reference has been forged by catastrophic events such as the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11 and war.

l Unlike their commanders, their worldviews are unaffected by the fall of the Berlin Wall.

l They feel separation anxiety without a cell phone or Internet access for extended times.

l They not only appreciate feedback, they expect it.

Source: U.S. Army

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