WASHINGTON, D.C. - A spokesman for the U.S. Army announced today that top leadership was struggling to respond to what he called a "suicide epidemic" taking place during suicide prevention training.
Spokesman George Wright revealed that 62 soldiers had taken their own lives during the mandatory training curriculum in the past month alone.
"We knew we had a problem on our hands with the rise in suicides. It's a real crisis and the media kept hammering us on it," said Wright. "So we felt that giving a PowerPoint briefing would solve the problem."
The mandatory suicide prevention program instituted Army-wide includes suicide prevention video vignettes paired with a 2700-slide PowerPoint presentation. The class is usually taught by a therapist, the unit Chaplain, or some poor bastard NCO that was forced into being a certified suicide prevention instructor.
The briefs, given at the Battalion level, also require each Commander to give a personalized talk on the issue.
"With at least a tear in the eye and calculated amount of emotion in their voice to satisfy Officer Evaluation Report (OER) requirements," Wright added.
Despite the new training, Commanders have reported troubling incidents during the briefs.
"During one of the breaks during hour seven or eight, one soldier actually removed his reflective belt and hung himself with it from a door," said Captain Steven Riggs. "How the hell am I supposed to tell my soldiers that reflective belts save lives from now on?"
A separate class at Fort Dix resulted in six soldiers in the audience taking their lives, along with the instructor of the brief — who jumped off the stage head first at slide 2403 of the PowerPoint.
"That one was particularly tragic," said Captain Justin Bergant. "Not only did I have six soldiers who hadn't signed the attendance roster, but the instructor wasn't able to sign off on the rest of the sheets, making them all useless. Not one single certificate of completion could be issued and now the Colonel says my OER will reflect the failure to hit our 100 percent goal."
As a temporary measure, the Army no longer allows soldiers to wear dog tags, boot laces, or reflective belts during the briefings — quite often confusing troops who are used to relying on the PT belts for keeping them alive in combat and in garrison.
Despite the tragedy, Wright says they already have plans in place to fix the problems.
"Well, obviously we're not doing enough, so we know that we need to add an additional 400-500 slides to really hammer home the message," said Wright.
Wright also says they have received good feedback on the latest guidance memo to Army leaders.
"We're now requiring all Training NCO's to maintain a unit roster which all soldiers need to sign before the briefs, saying that they promise not to kill or hurt themselves."
The Army Chief of Staff also weighed in on the issue, saying that he had his "Plan E ready to go" in case the already used plans A, B, C, and D fail.
The other plans, according to Odierno, include ignoring the problem and hoping it will just go away (Plans A and B), telling soldiers to take motrin, drink water, and "suck it the fuck up" (Plan C), and finally, giving them an anti-suicide nasal spray (Plan D).
"We certainly feel that soldiers should be able to police themselves and take care of each other on this issue, but if all else fails, we'll have to trust in the UCMJ," said General Ray Odierno. "Any soldier that commits suicide will be punished accordingly. That will include court-martial and possible bad conduct discharge."
Odierno added, "This is a failure in PowerPoint, not leadership."