By Patrick Buffett, Fort Lee Public Affairs

FORT LEE, Va. – “Make no bones about it, we’re here to defeat an evil entity within our communities – among our military formations. We are warriors in this battle. We know the strategy we must take to overcome the opposition, and we know the tragic cost of defeat.”

Those are the words of Dr. James E. Walker, the featured speaker at the Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month Kickoff Breakfast Friday at the Memorial Chapel at Fort Lee. About 100 people attended the event, including Maj. Gen. Darrell K. Williams, Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee commanding general, Command Sgt. Maj. Terry E. Parham Sr., CASCOM CSM, John E. Hall, deputy to the commanding general, and Command Sgt. Maj. Clarence D. Richardson, garrison CSM and master of ceremonies.

During introductory remarks at the breakfast, Williams reminded the audience of the suicide that occurred within the CASCOM headquarters building a year ago. Barricaded in an office, an emotionally distraught sergeant first class shot herself during negotiations with law enforcement officials.

“Anyone with doubt about the importance of suicide prevention efforts should think back to the grim reality of that incident,” Williams remarked. “Without caring and vigilant individuals like yourselves, we risk other moments of similar tragedy. It could easily happen again if we don’t get involved as a community.”

Williams was followed by the featured speaker, a retired Army colonel and former garrison chaplain who now serves as the Soldier Social Services assistant and resiliency trainer at Kenner Army Health Clinic.

“We’re here this morning to confirm our resolve to take action and prevent suicidal acts in any form,” Walker emphasized early on in his talk. “We’re here to remind ourselves and others we have a pivotal role in reducing the stigma associated with needing and seeking behavioral care. In short, we are here to take a stance against suicide.”

Citing statistics from the past several years, Walker said there is little indication suicide rates are declining among the ranks. In fact, a 2012 report from the Army Medical Department noted more troops died by their own hand than the number killed in combat or training accidents.

“What should that tell us?” he later queried the audience. “Well, we can’t change depression or feelings of hopelessness, but we can associate, educate and motivate. I think the cure is in the process. We have to convince the team we care and will get individuals the help they need without worry of reprimand or reprisal.”

Eliminating the stigma associated with seeking community assistance (i.e. financial, marital or behavioral help) is equally crucial, Walker noted.

“I am concerned – and I want you to remember this point – that (the military still has its) fair share of selfish and toxic leaders who don’t agree with the idea of seeking the help of support services in the community,” he said. “Perhaps they consider it a sign of weakness or unnecessarily elevating an issue (not being able to take care of one’s problems at home). That’s the mindset that needs to be changed, and one of the key goals of this annual awareness event.”

Team Lee members at every level can make a difference in the “war against suicide,” Walker noted as he reached the conclusion of his talk. “Our tasking is to aggressively conquer this killer, not just to play around with it because the Army told us to,” he said. “That’s your charge today. Look at the strategies and the messages you plan to deliver. Go out there and show you really care about this issue.”

The breakfast was the first of many events planned throughout the month to raise awareness about the warning signs of suicide and ways to “take action,” the observance theme, so those struggling with emotional or mental hardships can get the support they need. Other upcoming activities are as follows:

• Take Action Booth at Post Exchange – Sept. 14, 18, 21 and 25, 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

• ACE Suicide Intervention Training – Liberty Chapel: Sept. 14, 1-5 p.m.; Sept. 18, 8 a.m. – noon; Sept. 21, 1-5 p.m.; Sept. 25, 8 a.m. – noon; and Sept. 28, 1-5 p.m.

• CASCOM Leader Professional Development program featuring a survivor’s panel discussion with John and Maria Ganues and psychiatrist Dr. John Jackson, Sept. 29, 2-5 p.m., Army Logistics University.

• Take Action Walk/Run and Resource Fair, Sept. 20, 6 a.m. – 2 p.m., Williams Stadium. Participants can complete a lap around the track as a show of action for suicide prevention and learn about the many support services in the community.

Keep reading the Traveller or visit for event updates and additional information.