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The most difficult task, however, is changing military culture. Too many soldiers feel stigmatized in reporting personal problems or fear jeopardizing their career. It’s a difficult balance to maintain a culture of courage and endurance and then also welcome admissions of vulnerability, confusion, and helplessness.
Secretary McHugh wants to increase “resilience” training for soldiers but also create a climate for soldiers to “just put their arm around another soldier and say, ‘Come on, let’s get some help’.”
That soldier-to-soldier compassion is the necessary initial step toward finding help for soldiers possibly heading toward suicide.
And for soldiers who have experienced war zones, many need help in dealing with the shock of combat, the shame and guilt of surviving when friends are killed, or participating in an action that hurts civilians or fellow soldiers. These emotional injuries often require a well-trained chaplain or other counselor to restore a soldier’s moral and spiritual bearing.
Spotting a soldier’s internal turmoil is half the battle. A majority of service members who die by suicide were not known to have an emotional or mental disorder.
One of the new military slogans is “never let our buddy fight alone.” The quiet assistance of fellow soldiers for those fighting inner woes may be the bravest act in saving lives within the military. No medals will be given. But one by one, this war can be won.