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HEIDELBERG, Germany — Units all across U.S. Army Europe will be taking time off from regular tasks and training to talk about suicide, and how to prevent it.

Through March 15, USAREUR units will be part of an Armywide "stand down" for suicide prevention. The effort includes training organized by unit leadership, augmented by a chaplain or mental health provider, if requested.

Each unit will schedule its own "stand-down day," according to a U.S. Army Europe press release.

The stand down comes after suicides in the Army rose for the fourth year in a row. According to the Army, there were 128 confirmed suicides last year — and 15 more probable suicides still being investigated, up from 115 in 2007.

Gen. Pete Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, was appointed to start a servicewide suicide prevention effort after the numbers were released. Chiarelli said then that the reasons why the number of soldier suicides continued to rise was unknown.

Prevention efforts will focus on destigmatizing mental health care, highlighting how to get the care, identifying those at risk of taking their own lives, and urging people to engage with friends and loved ones they’re concerned about — and asking them if they’re thinking about suicide.

Until recent years, the Army’s suicide rate was lower than the U.S. average for male civilians in the same age group.

The 2006 toll of 102 suicides translated to a rate of 17.5 per 100,000, still lower than the 19.9 for 100,000 in a comparable civilian sector. The lowest in the Army, in 2001, was 9.1.

U.S. Army Europe’s rates have been lower than that of the Army as a whole, but the number of suicides in USAREUR also rose last year.

In 2008, there were seven, five of them committed by USAREUR soldiers downrange. That was up from four suicides in 2007, three of which were committed downrange.

In 2003, nine USAREUR soldiers took their own lives. Subsequent years saw a decline, to five suicides in 2004 and 2005, and there were six in 2006.

In 2007, the then-commander of the Europe Regional Medical Command asked for 71 more mental-health-care providers for the next year, nearly a 50 percent increase. According to ERMC, 64 new mental health care providers were hired.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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