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NEWS | Jan. 16, 2013

Noncommissioned officers crucial to suicide prevention, Battaglia says

By xxxClaudette Roulo Colorado National Guard

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (1/16/13) -- The senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today that he can’t succeed at his job without the help of enlisted service members, and he called on noncommissioned officers to know their troops well enough to head off problems.

Air Force and Marine Corps first sergeants assigned to Keesler Air Force Base met with Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia and talked about several challenges faced by the enlisted force.

“You have a hard job,” he told the noncommissioned officers. “I wish I could give you a pay raise.”

Over breakfast, Battaglia answered questions about suicide prevention efforts and whether the position of senior enlisted advisor to the chairman would become an enduring one.

The fact that the military suicide rate is lower than that of the population at large shouldn’t be considered a compliment or accolade, Battaglia said. “We don’t use society as a bar,” he noted, adding that instead, the military should stand as a model for society.

The military suicide prevention effort will succeed only if suicide is taken out of the decision-making process for service members, Battaglia said. “This is easier said than done,” he acknowledged, but he told the first sergeants they are up to the challenge.

“You really have to know your folks,” he said. “I just can’t overemphasize this.”

Battaglia said he recently came to the realization that “maybe we’re studying the wrong thing” in the suicide prevention effort. Instead of studying what the military is doing wrong, he said, he is now focusing on what it’s doing right.

For example, he told the NCOs, the suicide rate in U.S. Forces Korea is nearly zero. Discussions with the senior enlisted leaders there have shown him that command climate and operational focus are essential tools in battling suicide.

As to whether the job of senior enlisted advisor to the chairman continues to exist after he leaves it, Battaglia told the service members it depends on how he performs. The position is resonating well throughout the force, he said, adding that he hopes it continues.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey’s first official act as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was to swear in his enlisted advisor, the sergeant major said. “That was huge,” he added, because it indicated the value the chairman places on enlisted service members.

“I don’t know why he selected me,” Battaglia joked. “I don’t plan on asking. Some things are better left unsaid."

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