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Young/Inexperienced Leader fails to report Suicidal Thoughts of a subordinate. What action should I take?

I recently had a Soldier in our squad confide to his Leader, that he was having suicidal thoughts and was writing goodbye letters. The NCO did not take any action except to sit down and talk to the Soldier. The NCO in question did not want to lose the Soldiers trust so he did not tell anyone. Eventually the Soldier received professional assistance. The NCO has potential and I would like to help develop him at the same time as giving him a good wake up call. Do you have any advice or suggestions to help me with this?

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Sounds like a close call but fortunately it turned out as a learning opportunity.

Understanding the position the young SGT was in along with his potential lack of experience it is easy to understand why he may have made the decisions he did.  However as a leader he was bound by duty to report the behavior to the chain of command and ensure the safety of the Soldier. He could have also ensure the Soldier spoke with a confidential source like a health care professional or Chaplain.

Consider the following:

  1. Walk through the issue with the Leader, discuss his obligations as a leader
  2. Have the Leader go through all the Army Suicide Training.  See this Link: http://www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/suicide/training.asp  have them back brief you.
  3. Have the Leader read the Army policy on how Soldiers showing signs of suicidal behavior should be handled and other command requirements.
  4. Having the Leader write a fictitious letter to the Soldier’s parents explaining how the Soldier died as a result of the Leaders’ failure to report the incident.
  5. Have the Leader write an essay on the Army’s policy and procedure for suicidal gestures/attempts.  What actions are required? What steps should be taken when the leader is notified?  How and When will those steps be taken  and what are the consequences for failing to follow those procedures for both the Soldier and the Leader invovled.
  6. Having the Leader prepare a unit policy letter on suicide prevention actions for the unit.
  7. Having the Leader prepare a unit SOP on Suicide Prevention

You could also consider placing a comment on the Leader’s working copy of the NCOER and state that upon successful completion of the corrective training and a 90 day evaluation period you will decide if the comment should remain on the working copy of the evaluation or be removed.

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Mark is a Retired Command Sergeant Major with 26 years of military leadership experience. He held 3 military occupational specialties (Field Artillery, Nuclear Weapons Tech, and Ammunition Ordnance). Mark is one of the leading military authors in the fields of leadership, counseling, and training.

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  • Sgt V


    I’m a suicide intervention nco at my battery, and it’s important to remember that most people are not good crisis counselors because they lack training. Your chaplain should offer a program called Suicide ASIST that teaches these skills, and it sounds like this NCO could benefit from such training

    • Mark Gerecht


      SGT V,
      Thanks for that AWESOME input! As Leaders we need to make sure we are fully aware of all the resources available to our Soldier. The only way we can do this is through research of resources that are available and more IMPORTANTLY…through sharing knowledge with our subordinates, peers, and superiors! THANKS for Sharing this valuable knowledge. I look forward to seeing you more frequently on ASKTOP.net

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