General Battles Military Suicides

Gen. Mark Graham works to dramatically reduce the suicide rate in the military.

ByABC News
May 27, 2009, 1:05 PM

May 28, 2009— -- Gen. Mark Graham, the commanding general at Ft. Carson in Colorado, lost both of his sons in the same war -- but to two separate battles. The devastating losses of his sons to suicide and a roadside bomb just months apart have been his impetus to lead the military's battle against suicide.

Graham never imagined he would be one of the most learned experts on suicide, turning his pain into knowledge.

"I'd trade every bit of it in a second to get my boys back," Graham said.

Taking the attitude that one suicide is too many, Graham is trying to dramatically reduce the suicide rate in the military, which has nearly doubled since 2005.

"I think the whole Army leadership is shocked by it and realizes we've got to do more," Graham said.

Graham has turned Ft. Carson into a testing ground to find new methods to combat stress and prevent suicide.

One of the methods being implemented is mental toughness training.

"We climb ropes, we do pull-ups, we do all of these things when we strengthen our muscles," Graham said, "and we're trying to do the same thing with our mind."

The military has found that soldiers with mental health issues are vulnerable to suicide when they come down from the adrenaline rush of battle. So, in the weeks before the young soldiers at Ft. Carson deploy to Afghanistan, they will be trained on what to do when adrenaline and stress from the war zone spike in their bodies.

"We put them in situations where they do lots of things that increase their heart rate and then there might be a loud noise," Graham said. "And then we talk about how they feel and how they bring their heart rate down, how they bring their stress down, and being able to handle some of those situations."

Soldiers are almost always under stress in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where roadside bombs can kill at any time. After a soldier experiences a stressful situation, he or she receives additional training on how to recognize and ease stresses in the body.

The soldiers' instructors are military members who have experienced combat firsthand. One is a former Marine who spent time in Fallujah, and another a former senior non-commissioned officer in the Ranger Regiment 275.

One soldier found it relaxing to hear from the special forces and rangers in his training class.

"That made everybody a lot more in tune to listening instead of just a civilian doctor comes in and talks to you," E-5 Army Sgt. Chuck Dostal told ABC News.