Why Congress Is Wrong For Shutting Down SOCOM Proposed Budget To Curb Suicide Rate

Hospitalman 1st Class Patrick B. Quill, SSgt. Frankie J. Shinost, Maj. James T. Rose and Sgt. William B. Soutra of 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, stand at attention after being awarded the nation's second and third highest awards for combat valor by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus at 1st MSOB headquarters aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Photo By: Cpl. Kyle McNally

The suicide rate for SOCOM personnel is at an all-time high since the days of the 9/11 attacks, to the point that the rate is higher than that of their conventional Army and USMC brethren. In a unique attempt to curve the rate of suicide amongst its personnel, SOCOM leadership has placed a budget request to Congress of $48 million (FY15) to hire physical therapists, dieticians, sports psychologists, and strength and conditioning specialists. The House Armed Services Committee blasted SOCOM for recalcitrance and decreased the budget request by redirecting $23 million of the requested $48 million elsewhere.

SOCOM’s request is unique in that conventional Army and USMC forces have been tackling the suicide “problem” solely from a mental/psychological perspective, whereas SOCOM is attempting to tackle it from a “whole person” approach.

Einstein said that, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Since fighting the Global War on Terror, the Army and USMC have faced staggering suicide rates. Both branches, as well as the Department of Defense, have poured countless millions of dollars towards funding mental and psychological health care specialists, with little or no results in achieving the tangible goal of greatly curbing the overall suicide rate. Recognizing that the “same old thing” is not working, SOCOM leadership decided to do as it does on the battlefield: think outside the box.

What causes one to commit suicide is relative from one person to another. What is true about them all is that suicide is not solely a mental or psychological matter. Taking care of a servicemember is about taking care of the whole person — his mind, body, and spirit, as I always say. One of the major causes of suicide is a decrease in a service member’s self-esteem, brought upon by a myriad of reasons: spousal/domestic issues, physical disabilities, etc.

Being a combat leader, I understand and fully embrace, SOCOM’s seemingly unorthodox approach in stemming its personnel suicide rate. In order for a servicemember to perform at the highest levels (especially on the battlefield), not only must his body be in the best of shape, but so too must his mind. Since it is a common understanding that a good soldier is a mentally and physically strong soldier, then it only makes sense that leadership must tackle the suicide issue from both a physical and mental perspective.

Patrick L. Hill and Nick A. Turiano, researchers in Psychiatry and Psychology out of Carleton University and the University of Rochester Medical Center agree with me. Utilizing evidence-based medicine, they discovered evidence that finding purpose in life reduces risk of mortality:

These longevity benefits did not appear to be conditional on the participants’ age, how long they lived during the follow-up period, or whether they had retired from the workforce. In other words, having a purpose in life appears to widely buffer against mortality risk across the adult years.

By also tackling suicide from a physical and motivational approach, SOCOM is saying to its personnel that they still have a purpose in life. By strengthening their bodies, the special operators regain their sense of self-worth; thus, strengthening their minds. They learn, that to let out some stress, it’s much more productive to lift weights or go on a long run, instead of drinking alcohol.

The potential of suicide is real among too many of our servicemembers. Combat leaders understand that to tackle an issue, one must be willing to use every tool in the kit bag. That’s what SOCOM’s approach represents. Congress needs to get out of SOCOM’s way and allow its leadership to take care of its personnel as it feels is best. The old ways of tackling suicide have not worked. It is time for a new approach, and I as one who has personally/professionally faced this dire issue, support SOCOM in its efforts.

Terron Sims, II, is a West Point graduate and veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is a Veteran and Military Family (VMF) policy expert and is on the Board of Principals for the Truman National Security Project.


(U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith)

Three U.S. service members received non-life-threatening injuries after being fired on Monday by an Afghan police officer, a U.S. official confirmed.

The troops were part of a convoy in Kandahar province that came under attack by a member of the Afghan Civil Order Police, a spokesperson for Operation Resolute Support said on Monday.

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Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.

Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.

The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty

Marine Maj. Jose Anzaldua's commemorative 1911 pistol

(Sig Sauer)

Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.

Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:

Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.

In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.

On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.

Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.

After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.

Sig Sauer presented the commemorative 1911 pistol to Anzaldua in a private ceremony at the gunmaker's headquarters in Newington, New Hampshire. The pistol's unique features include:

  • 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
  • Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
  • Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
  • Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
  • Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.

The top leaders of a Japan-based Marine Corps F/A-18D Hornet squadron were fired after an investigation into a deadly mid-air collision last December found that poor training and an "unprofessional command climate" contributed to the crash that left six Marines dead, officials announced on Monday.

Five Marines aboard a KC-130J Super Hercules and one Marine onboard an F/A-18D Hornet were killed in the Dec. 6, 2018 collision that took place about 200 miles off the Japanese coast. Another Marine aviator who was in the Hornet survived.

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A former Army soldier was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Thursday for stealing weapons from Fort Bliss, along with other charges.

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(U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Airman 1st Class Corey Hook)

Editor's Note: This article by Richard Sisk originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The Department of Veterans Affairs released an alarming report Friday showing that at least 60,000 veterans died by suicide between 2008 and 2017, with little sign that the crisis is abating despite suicide prevention being the VA's top priority.

Although the total population of veterans declined by 18% during that span of years, more than 6,000 veterans died by suicide annually, according to the VA's 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report.

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