3rd Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. Robert “Abe” Abrams updated the Hinesville Rotary Club on Tuesday on the division headquarters’ upcoming fall deployment and the Army’s new nine-month deployment cycle, in addition to speaking about the installation’s renewed commitment to suicide prevention.
After the Rotary Club meeting, Abrams signed a proclamation in his office on Fort Stewart designating September as Suicide Prevention Month on Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield.
Abrams told Rotarians he and about 700 headquarters soldiers should begin deploying to Iraq Nov. 5 or 6, to help complete the U.S. military’s final drawdown there. America’s troops are currently slated to leave Iraq by Dec. 31. However, the general hinted circumstances could change in as few as 90 days should the Iraqis ask the U.S. to stay longer.
The general said with all division brigades now redeployed, each brigade is in a different phase of reset, meaning soldiers have come off of block leave and are in the training mode again. Because the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team redeployed ahead of the 1st and 4th brigades, it is currently undergoing gunnery field exercises and will deploy to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., in April 2012.
Abrams explained the Army is undergoing force generation (ARFORGEN), meaning it is systematically rebuilding its units to be equipped, trained and prepared for future contingencies.
“We have to be ready for anything,” he said.
He said Fort Stewart is currently experiencing a 40 percent to 50 percent turnover in troops, with some soldiers leaving the service and others rotating out to attend military schools or report to new assignments.
“We’re getting new soldiers simultaneously,” Abrams said.
The general also explained the Army’s new deployment policy which has shortened 12-month deployments to nine.
“It should give 27 months back for dwell time,” he said. This additional dwell time should help soldiers and their families regenerate, especially after 10 years of war with back-to-back deployments, Abrams said.
Multiple deployments have left soldiers and their families “frayed,” he said.
Therefore, the Army now faces two challenges to helping service members become more resilient. First, military leaders are working to remove the stigma associated with seeking help for behavioral health issues. Secondly, the Army is recommitting itself to suicide prevention, Abrams said.
“I think we’ve turned the corner,” he said. “But we still have plenty of work to do.”
The general said 3rd ID leaders are being asked to attend at least one assessment session with a behavioral health practitioner. If soldiers see their commanders seeking help, they will be more open to seeking help when they need it, Abrams said.
“One suicide is too many,” he said.
The general added implementing more aggressive suicide prevention at Fort Stewart is working; 12 suicides have been prevented in the four months he’s led the 3rd ID, he said. Family members and fellow soldiers helped prevent tragedy by being aware of warning signs and alerting commanders to soldiers who were suicidal, the general said.
Later that afternoon, Abrams told reporters he is constantly reminded of soldiers lost to suicide by keeping a stack of white soldier story cards on his desk.
“Each one is a human story,” he said.
About six soldiers are suspected of committing suicide since January, according to Fort Stewart spokesman Kevin Larson.
These deaths are still under investigation, Larson said.