Army Takes Proactive Approach to Reduce Harmful Behaviors

Army Takes Proactive Approach to Reduce Harmful Behaviors

AUSA Military Family Forum I: Transforming Army Prevention, Care, Education and Quality of Life at the AUSA 2023 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., Monday, Oct. 9, 2023. (Tristan Lorei for AUSA)
Photo by: Tristan Lorei for AUSA

The Army is getting ahead of harmful behaviors by prioritizing quality of life for its soldiers, communities and families, a panel of experts said. 

“Resilience [and] suicide risk is a community and social issue,” said Craig Bryan, a veteran and a clinical psychologist with expertise in military personnel and veterans, who moderated a military family forum Oct. 9 at the Association of the U.S. Army’s 2023 Annual Meeting and Exposition. “Suicide prevention is not just about stopping people from dying and keeping them alive. It’s about helping them to find purpose and meaning. It’s about helping them to achieve well-being in their lives.” 

The Army has taken multiple steps to increase soldiers’ resilience and reduce harmful behaviors, including extending its Quality of Life Task Force and implementing new suicide prevention regulations. 

Social determinants of health, including issues like health care and economic security, “overlay all of the quality-of-life issues that we’ve been working on,” said Dee Geise, director of the soldier and family readiness directorate and the Army’s Quality of Life Task Force.  

Though Geise noted that the Army does check in with young soldiers at training posts, it is not yet “to the extent that we need,” she said. Geise also said that soldiers at all stages of their careers may be at points where they could benefit from proactive wellness checks. 

Times of transition, such as a permanent change-of-station move or when a relationship fails, are times when soldiers may need more support, said Col. Samuel Preston, commander of Blanchfield Army Community Hospital at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. 

The Army’s Mission 100 program, which provides soldiers in Alaska with annual counseling, could be used to inspire soldier support across other installations, said Brig. Gen. William Green Jr., the deputy chief of chaplains who is performing the duties of the Army’s chief of chaplains. The program was implemented after a cluster of suicide deaths in Alaska.

“In Mission 100, [the Army] made sure that [everyone] saw or talked to someone, either a chaplain, a behavioral health expert or a military family life consultant,” Green said. “We were able to get those particular folks on the ground [in Alaska]. From all accounts, we’ve heard that they came in and they helped significantly, and they were absolutely the value added to the process.”  

For soldiers, every interaction and community connection has the ability to prevent harmful behavior. 

“Our communities are our first line of defense, and that’s everything from formal programs that we deliver to every touch point that we have with each other, in our community and in our unit to [interactions with community members],” Geise said. “It’s all meaningful engagement.”

— Karli Goldenberg