Army general regrets calling suicide ‘selfish,’ says message was to get help
A U.S. Army general who came under fire recently for what he wrote about suicide said his comments were taken out of context.
Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard, commander of the 1st Armored Division, said he’d written the blog post in January to persuade soldiers suffering mental anguish to seek help.
The post, which Pittard later removed and replaced with a retraction, was about 20 lines long, he said. However, several lines from the post were quoted in the media recently.
“I have now come to the conclusion that suicide is an absolutely selfish act. I am personally fed up with soldiers who are choosing to take their own lives so that others can clean up their mess,” the lines read. “Be an adult, act like an adult, and deal with your real-life problems like the rest of us.”
News organizations and other blogs picked up on the “selfish” statement. An Associated Press story last week about military suicides having increased to almost one per day also mentioned Pittard’s comments and his retraction.
“It went viral,” Pittard said in his first public comments about the matter. He was in York, Pa. on Saturday for the dedication of the Veterans Memorial Gold Star Healing and Peace Garden. Army Spc. Martin Kondor, who grew up near York and whose mother led the creation of the memorial, died in Iraq in 2004 while protecting Pittard.
Pittard said he wrote the post in January about two hours after he left the funeral of a soldier from Fort Bliss, in El Paso, Tex., where Pittard’s command is. The soldier had committed suicide on Christmas morning. His wife and two daughters had found the body.
Pittard attended the funeral and met the family.
“It had a profound effect on me,” Pittard said.
After the excerpt appeared in the news, Pittard received a public rebuke from the Army, which has the highest number of suicides and called his assertions “clearly wrong.” The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, said he disagrees with Pittard “in the strongest possible terms.”
“I regret it, obviously,” Pittard said. “The whole focus of the blog was ‘getting help.’”
But Pittard said he understands the criticism. If he read the offending lines out of context, “I’d be outraged, too,” he said.
Pittard has written nine other blog posts about suicide prevention at Fort Bliss since July 2010, a matter he says he is both “compassionate and passionate” about. He pointed to his base’s lower-than-average suicide rates and the success of programs such as Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training.
Some soldiers think “it’s a weakness to get help,” Pittard said. “I myself have been in behavioral health. I believe in behavioral health.”
Pittard said he and his family sought behavioral health care before he took his job at Fort Bliss.
“There’s not stigma at Fort Bliss,” he said. “But there’s enough out there that a senior leader was reluctant to get help.”
The complete original post
Below is the complete text of Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard’s original blog post from Jan. 19. It was posted on a Wikipedia page about the general, who confirmed its accuracy:
“We lost a Fort Bliss Soldier to an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. I heard the tragic news as I walked out of a memorial service for another one of our Soldiers who decided to kill himself at home on Christmas Day so that his family would find him. Christmas will never be the same for his two young daughters he left behind. I have now come to the conclusion that suicide is an absolutely selfish act. Soldiers who commit suicide leave their families, their buddies and their units to literally clean up their mess. There is nothing noble about suicide. I care about each and every one of our Soldiers, family members and civilians at Fort Bliss. I know there are a lot of people hurting out there, especially with the future Army personnel cuts on the horizon. If you are hurting mentally or emotionally, then seek and get help; but don’t resort to taking your own life. I am personally fed up with Soldiers who are choosing to take their own lives so that others can clean up their mess. Be an adult, act like an adult, and deal with your real-life problems like the rest of us. SEEK HELP! If you need help, please call 915-779-1800 or 800-273-TALK (8255). It is a confidential call. Please look after each other; please do not allow your buddy to make a rash decision that will have permanent life-ending consequences. Choose life.”
On Suicide – A Retraction
“In my commentary published January 19, 2012, I stated suicide was a selfish act. Thanks to many of you and your feedback, I have learned that this was a hurtful statement. I also realize that my statement was not in line with the Army’s guidance regarding sensitivity to suicide. With my deepest sincerity and respect towards those whom I have offended, I retract that statement.
“There are many reasons why a person may take his or her own life; it is very complex. Suicide is a serious problem, not only in our Army, but throughout our entire nation. Our efforts to prevent suicide at Fort Bliss are having a beneficial effect. We have lower than average suicide rates within FORSCOM. We have more than four times the number of Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) personnel than any other Army installation, the most Master Resilience Trainers, 160 behavioral health providers, and inspiring stories every month of Soldiers who intervened when one of their battle buddies had suicidal ideations or attempts. Our Wellness Fusion Campus is unique within the Army and is the cornerstone of a deliberate, programmed and accountable installation-wide resilience campaign. Our goal is to create the most fit, healthy, and resilient community in America.
“We must continue to do better each and every day, reaching out, encouraging and helping those in need. A person sometimes considers suicide when they lose hope about the future and they do not feel connected with others around them — a profound sense of hopelessness. We can all help by wrapping our arms around our fellow Soldiers and showing them a future that is positive and supportive. This takes both leadership and compassion. Leaders at all levels must continue with the intrusive, yet caring and compassionate, leadership that has become a part of our culture at Team Bliss. Battle buddies and leaders must stay vigilant and act when someone is in need. None of us are immune from needing help. All of us, at some point, need help for mental, emotional, or relationship stress. Please seek help — it is the right thing to do!”