Army Recruiting Stand-down Follows Suicides
The Army is shutting down its entire recruiting operation in the wake of four suicides, Army Times reports.
Army Secretary Pete Geren has ordered a stand-down of the Army’s entire recruiting force and a review of almost every aspect of the job is underway in the wake of a wide-ranging investigation of four suicides in the Houston Recruiting Battalion.
Poor command climate, failing personal relationships and long, stressful work days were factors in the suicides, the investigation found. The investigating officer noted a “threatening” environment in the battalion and that leaders may have tried to influence statements from witnesses. There were some things found that are disturbing,” said Brig. Gen. Del Turner, deputy commanding general for Accessions Command and the officer who conducted the investigation.
The one-day stand-down of all 7,000 active Army and 1,400 Army Reserve recruiters will be Feb. 13. The soldiers will receive training on leadership, a review of the expectations of Recruiting Command’s leaders, suicide prevention and resiliency training, coping skills and recruiter wellness, Turner said.
There were 17 suicides within Recruiting Command between fiscal years 2001 and 2008, said Col. Michael Negard, a Training and Doctrine Command spokesman. There were more than 500 suicides by active-duty soldiers across the Army from Jan. 1, 2003, through Aug. 31, according to data from the Army G-1. Another 31 cases were pending final determination, as of Aug. 31. The Army’s suicide rate increased from 12.4 for every 100,000 soldiers in 2003 to 18.1 in 2007, an all-time high for the service. Nationwide, the suicide rate for every 100,000 people was 19.5 in 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here is what Turner said he found:
• There was poor command climate in the recruiting battalion, one of 38 in the Army. Morale was low among the unit’s 200-plus recruiters, who routinely worked 12- to 14-hour days. They had unpredictable work schedules, frequently working on weekends. There was a “threatening type of environment” established by certain leaders throughout the battalion’s chain of command.
• All four soldiers who killed themselves suffered from “troubled” or “failing” personal relationships.
Soldiers who are nominated for recruiting duty must complete financial disclosure forms and statements declaring that they understand that recruiting is sensitive duty, they may be assigned to remote locations and they must be able to work independently. They also must complete a mental health evaluation and be interviewed by their current battalion commander, command sergeant major and company commander, who must determine whether the soldier would be a successful recruiter. Input from this command team must include comments on the prospective recruiter’s leadership ability and potential, physical fitness, character, integrity, ability to perform in stressful situations and any incidents of abuse. All negative evaluations must include a full explanation.
My dad was an Army recruiter, in Houston no less, when I was I kid. The job has always been stressful, requiring long hours, including nights and weekends. That’s simply the nature of the job. Further, as the piece notes, these are all hand-selected non-commissioned officers. They’ve already had training on leadership and stress management. Indeed, they’ve all led soldiers and experienced plenty of stress long before starting recruiting duty.
I agree with Kathy Kattenburg that It’s unfathomable that one day of PowerPoint presentations and watching motivational videos is going to fix anything if there’s a systemic problem and that this move is therefore mostly symbolic. I disagree with her assessment that LTG Freakley, who runs Recruiting Command, “has no idea what leadership is all about.”
Yes, recruiters are in a tough position right now, having to sell the Army to volunteers during a long, unpopular war. That’s something I’ve been writing about for years now. But it goes too far, by a longshot, to say that “Recruiters are forced to lie and cheat to meet a quota that is unreasonably high in order to try to fix a broken Army.” Indeed, the quota’s not particularly high — Barack Obama and others want to increase the size of the Army — and it’s one that’s generally being met. And, while the Army’s strained, it’s hardly broken. Re-enlistments are at record highs; the problem has been with initial enlistments. Which, incidentally, have been up in recent months as the economy has been down.
While I applaud the Army’s taking four suicides in one recruiting district very seriously, it could well be a tragic statistical anomaly. These four were veterans of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, coping with not only a stressful job unlike any they’ve previously had in the military but problems in their home life. There may not have been much the command could have done to prevent this.