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Progress for I Marine Expeditionary Force and suicide prevention

2 Aug 2013 | Lance Cpl. Scott Reel

The Marine Corps is a family that mourns when it loses any member and takes every precaution to eliminate death from preventable causes. Suicide is one of the most preventable causes of death in the Marine Corps, and statistics show the Corps' prevention efforts are paying off. 

“The implementation of the Never Leave a Marine Behind Program (NLMB) over the past two years is responsible for significantly increasing suicide awareness among all Marines and Sailors," said Force Surgeon Capt. Gregory Jones. "While the OSCAR program targets only a small number of personnel for extra training, the NLMB program provides all members of I MEF useful and actionable information about ways to recognize and prevent suicide." 

According to the statistics of Julian Garibay, I Marine Expeditionary Force Combat and Operation Stress Control (COSC) program specialist, the truth is the suicides from fiscal year 2012 and fiscal year 2013 to date, combined, are significantly less than 2011. 

In a 2012 report to the House Armed Service Committee on the posture of the United States Marine Corps, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos stated that the suicide rate decreased from the high suicide rate in 2009. He continued by stating that the increase in attempts could be attributed to increased awareness. Amos said that no matter the case, one suicide will always be too many. 

The NLMB program is small unit leadership based, meaning it shares one of the main characteristics of the Corps and part of its success in all areas. When noncommissioned officers and staff noncommissioned officers lead their younger Marines, the entire Corps can be educated and trained through a very functional chain of command process. 

"The key to preventing suicide among our Marines is engaged leadership, from small unit leaders all the way up through the chain of command," Amos said. "Our noncommissioned officers are our first line of defense when it comes to recognizing the warning signs of personal distress. Suicide exacts a tremendous toll on our Marines, their families and our mission readiness.  Every Marine is responsible for establishing a personal and professional relationship with their Marines such that they can see warning signs and intervene before the issue escalates."

The powerful statement from the Commandant of the Marine Corps then turned to strength. Often self-reliance is one of the greatest senses of pride for Marines, and with suicide prevention, it's no different. 

"We must make suicide awareness, prevention and intervention a priority. Marines may not want to discuss personal issues for fear of appearing to be weak. We have to make it very clear it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. I charge all leaders to pay attention to their Marines. Pay attention to every aspect of their lives so there are no 'surprises.'  You are accountable to foster an environment in which asking for help is okay; where it's seen as a strength and not a weakness."

After suicide was recognized as an institutional problem and solutions were implemented, the Marine Corps has seen steadily decreasing suicide rates and suicide attempts. At the end of the day, the only factor to a lower suicide rate or attempt is Marines helping Marines or, as the training program directs, never leaving a Marine behind.