Task force report says suicides linked to lack of leadership, discipline
By MEGAN MCCLOSKEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 29, 2010
ARLINGTON, Va. — “Atrophied” leadership has led to more high-risk behavior among soldiers and ultimately more soldiers committing suicide, according to a blunt report the service released Thursday.
“It’s time for the Army to take a hard look at itself,” Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Peter Chiarelli said at a Pentagon press briefing.
The report, based on a 15-month review by the Suicide Prevention Task Force, asks: “Where has the Army’s leadership in garrison gone?”
Chiarelli said nearly 10 years of war has led to a generation of leaders who focus solely on preparing for combat. He pointed out that many of the Army’s platoon sergeants joined the service after 2001, so all they’ve ever experienced is an unbalanced, stressed Army that has had to prioritize tactical readiness over good order and discipline in garrison.
Soldiers who do well when deployed are often given something of a free pass for misconduct at home, and that risky behavior often goes unnoticed until it is too late, Chiarelli said.
The Army has set a record for soldier suicides in each of the last three years — 162 killed themselves in 2009 — and the pace has not slowed in 2010.
During peacetime, 99 percent of commanders filled out disciplinary action forms each month. Now that number is down to 65 percent, the report said.
“Now more than ever, our soldiers need firm, fair and consistent leadership,” Chiarelli wrote in the report’s introduction.
Leaders have “lost situational awareness,” “signs and symptoms are being ignored,” and “soldiers are taking more and more risks and gaps in policies are allowing it to happen,” according to the report.
The report recommends the Army reprioritize policies for discipline that have not been followed because “the force has been so stressed for so long,” Chiarelli said.
With the drawdown in Iraq and the Army slowly getting closer to all units having two years of dwell time for every year deployed, now “is the perfect time” to tackle this issue as leaders will have more time to focus on effective management, he said.
The second half of the report lays out recommendations for how the Army can fix the leadership problem. Officials assembled 32 databases of information to help guide leaders.
Chiarelli said the information showed that young soldiers new to the Army need the most attention. Leaders should be prioritizing their time with those soldiers.