FORT KNOX, Ky. —
About 700 members of the Fort Knox community showed up outside of Natcher Physical Fitness Center on Sept. 6 to take part in the Army Substance Abuse Program's fourth annual Life Promotion 5K Run/Jog/Walk — a kickoff event for National Suicide Awareness Month.
Maj. Gen. John Evans Jr., commanding general of U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox, addressed the crowd with an inspiring story prior to the start of the run.
Of the many familiar faces that participate every year, one was noticeably missing.
"[Command] Sgt. Maj. [Mario] Terenas, who you know is always by my side, who never misses a [physical training] event, is not here this morning," Evans said. "Sergeant Major Terenas is not here this morning because he came to me yesterday and said, 'Hey sir, I just got a call from a guy that I served two tours with in Iraq in the 101st and he's struggling. He's fallen on hard times, his family's falling apart, he's lost his job; he's been dealing with issues of PTSD for most of his post-military career, and he's thinking about doing something to himself. I've got to go!' and I said, 'Sergeant Major, you go!'
"That's what it's about, folks," Evans said. "Not all the time can we do it on our own. Sometimes, we've got to reach out to somebody and when they reach out, we've got to be ready to respond."
Evans told the crowd that leaders are addressing suicide prevention from a different approach.
"Today, we are promoting life," Evans said. "We talk a lot in the Army and the Armed Forces; the dialogue is thick and rich about suicide prevention — as it should be — but today we are promoting life because that's important."
Shirley Johnson, ASAP specialist at Fort Knox's Directorate of Human Resources, said while Army numbers this year seem to reflect a downward trend in suicides, Department of Defense numbers are holding steady.
"When you talk about suicide prevention, it does come along with its own stigmas, so we're here to promote life, promote resiliency, promote readiness and promote stigma reduction," Johnson said. "A lot of people will not ask for help because they're worried about what people might say about them. We're trying to squash that because sometimes we have to swallow our pride and ask for help."
Evans said he would avoid talking to them about the suicide statistics and stigmas because they have provided plenty of information many in the military have heard countless times before.
"You [already] understand that this is a plague that we've got to deal with," Evans said. "You understand that suicide is a personal choice and because of that, it means that we can influence people who may be struggling, who may be in self-doubt; who may need help.
And there's nothing wrong with needing help. We all do from time to time."
After Evans' speech, Johnson called everybody to the starting line. After several misfires from a starting gun, Johnson laughed and conceded that he would have to kick off the awareness month a different way:
"On your marks, get set, GO!"