First Army to hold its own Suicide Stand Down

October  03, 2012

For the first time ever, thousands of First Army soldiers and employees will stop working for a full day to focus on suicide prevention. Tomorrow, a total of about 10,000 members of First Army from all over the world will participate in a "Suicide Stand Down." That includes 350 soldiers and civilians who work at the headquarters on Arsenal Island. 

Colonel Steve Merkel is First Army's Chief of Staff. He says one of the main messages will be that it's okay to ask for help. And it's not acceptable to sit on the sidelines and watch when someone may be having suicidal thoughts or shows signs of serious depression. 

At work, Merkel's co-workers call him "the eternal optimist." And it was his idea for First Army to take an entire day off for the stand down. He was working in Washington DC when a co-worker's daughter killed herself and left a note saying she was sorry she got a "C" in one of her classes. "I said to myself, 'holy smokes, Steve, wake up - you need to learn more! I can't hide from this dynamic, I have to embrace it.' The only way to prevent suicide is for everyone to pay attention and get involved."

Then the colonel made a point of talking to his own children about suicide, telling them to remember what's important in life. 

During tomorrow's Suicide Stand Down, First Army employees will take "resilience training." Merkel says it helps people identify their inner strengths during hard times, and foster a sense of belonging and purpose in life. They will also receive pocket-sized "ACE" cards. The "A" stands for ASK, the "C" is for show you CARE, and the "E" is for ESCORT - take the person to someone who's trained to help. 

(Photo courtesy of First Army: Soldiers stand beside each other on and off the battlefield.)