CAMP AL TAQADDUM, Iraq --
Suicide rates in the military are at a 10-year high. In 2008, the Marine Corps had 41 confirmed suicides and approximately 150 suicide attempts, according to the Manpower and Reserve Affairs website.
Because of these skyrocketing statistics, every noncommissioned officer in the Marine Corps is receiving additional training in suicide prevention, in the form of a course called “Never Leave a Marine Behind.”
The course was developed by Navy Cmdr. Aaron D. Werbel, the Behavioral Health Affairs Officer and the lead psychiatrist in the Marine Corps, along with Master Gunnery Sgt. Peter Proietto, the senior advisor of the Safety Division, Headquarters Marine Corps. Its intent is to teach Marine NCOs and green-side sailors more effective ways of understanding and aiding troubled Marines, recognizing the signs of a potentially suicidal Marine, and to educate Marines on the rising epidemic.
To prepare for the course, an initial train-the-trainer course was held aboard Camp Al Taqaddum, Iraq, Aug. 20 - 22 for all units aboard the base.
Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Carlton W. Kent expressed his view on the course to the Marines aboard Camp Al Taqaddum during his recent visit to the base, Aug. 18.
“We cannot pinpoint [the reason for the growing suicide rate], but we know it goes back to leadership 101,” Kent said. “Leaders need to know their Marines, so their Marines can trust and have the confidence in their leaders to come and speak to them about their issues. The commandant of the Marine Corps has pushed leadership down to NCOs everywhere, so we are going to push this down to NCOs as well.”
Proietto made a similar point to that of the sergeant major’s. He said the Corps’ NCOs need to refocus on basic leadership skills that were put on the back burner when Operation Iraqi Freedom began in 2003.
“The focus switched from knowing your Marines, knowing their families, friends and hobbies, to getting geared up for the invasion of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan,” said Proietto. “We had a record amount of suicides last year and so far this year. It’s a problem that needs to be fixed using real effective training for our NCOs. They have the power to take control of this issue, and we just have to give them the tools.”
The first master trainers completed a three-day course in Quantico, Va., to become suicide prevention train-the-trainer instructors, July 17. The master trainers are training two sergeant instructors from each unit throughout the Marine Corps down to the squadron and battalion level.
Classes will be held until at least two NCOs from each unit have been trained to then give the course to all NCOs in their individual units.
The master trainers are now making their way through Iraq visiting deployed Marines and sailors to ensure they are trained up as well.
The goal is to have trained all [67,000] NCOs by the end of fiscal year 2009, Proietto said.
For part one of the train-the-trainer course, sergeants and petty officers 2nd class are being taught the course that they will later be teaching. The master trainers then break down the course and explain each section and how to personalize it using their own individual experiences, said Sgt. Ramon Martinez, the personal driver for the commanding general of Marine Corps Training and Education Command and a master trainer for the course.
“We then separate the class into groups and have each of them teach a section of the course to a group of their peers,” said Martinez. “The key to instructing this course is having confidence in the knowledge you are supplying. If they have the confidence to teach the course to their peers, they will be comfortable enough to teach it to a group of corporals and sergeants in their units.”
Sgt. Jermaine C. Francis, a motor transportation chief with Combat Logistics Regiment 27, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), and a student in the course, said the course was the best suicide awareness and prevention course he had ever attended.
“The instructors really seemed to care about the growing issue of increased suicides in the Marine Corps,” said Francis. “They take the time to personalize the course and that is what is going to make this course effective. We, as instructors, have to connect with our fellow NCOs to really make a difference. I definitely think this course will have a positive impact on the Marine Corps.”
As for the success of the course, only time will tell, as it is taught to NCOs across the Marine Corps.
As Marines are promoted to the rank of corporal, they will be required to attend the course. Although the course is a one-time requirement, NCOs will be required to take a refresher course every year.