The Army's 18th Airborne Corps wants to hear soldiers' ideas for decreasing military suicide, using a format previously employed to address issues such as sexual assault in the ranks and range management.
Five soldiers will be chosen May 6 to present their ideas to military leaders and subject matter experts at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as part of the unit's "Dragon's Lair" program -- a pitch-fest based on the format of ABC's "Shark Tank" show.
The troops have until midnight May 1 to submit their ideas.
"For us, this is about using our most-recognized program to save our teammates," said Col. Joe Buccino, XVIII Airborne Corps innovation officer. "This is about using the Dragon's Lair platform to raise awareness and give our soldiers a voice."
According to preliminary data published by the Defense Department, suicides increased by 8% in 2020 among active-duty personnel, and by 25% and 31% for the Reserve and National Guard components, respectively.
Based on the raw numbers and population of the services -- which the DoD says may change once all reports are analyzed and completed -- the Army's suicide rate in 2020 among active-duty personnel was an estimated 36 deaths per 100,000 soldiers. The Marine Corps' rate was 33 per 100,000, followed by the Air Force, at 24 per 100,000, and the Navy, at 18 per 100,000.
In 2019, the active-duty suicide rates were 29.8 per 100,000 for the Army, 25.3 per 100,000 in the Marine Corps, 21.5 per 100,000 for the Navy, and 25.1 per 100,000 for the Air Force.
Speaking to reporters March 31, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby cautioned against drawing conclusions from year to year until all deaths are investigated.
"At this time, it's too early to determine whether suicide rates are going to show an increase or a decrease for calendar year 2020," Kirby said. "Bottom line is, of course, that the health, safety and well-being of our military community is paramount to the readiness of our force. Every death by suicide is a tragedy, and every one results in a grieving family for which we share that … grief."
The Pentagon's official statistics for the year will be released in its annual suicide report, which typically comes out around the beginning of October.
The new Dragon's Lair initiative is designed to learn from soldiers who "live in the barracks, are in our orderly rooms, in our motor pools, across our formations," Buccino said.
The unit plans to announce the names of those selected on May 25.
The 18th Airborne Corps launched the Dragon's Lair program last October to provide soldiers a platform for sharing ideas for addressing problems across the service. In February, seven service members presented their proposals for addressing sexual assault and harassment in the ranks.
Staff Sgt. Shameka Dudley proposed that the service's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, or SHARP, training ditch PowerPoint presentations and replace them with virtual reality scenarios. Sgt. Taylor Kneuven called for a change to representation on Army administrative boards for separation to make outcomes more fair for soldiers.
The program is open to soldiers in the 18th Airborne Corps. Those who want to submit their ideas can do so through the unit's Dragon Innovation Program website.
Service members experiencing a crisis can call the Veterans Crisis Line 24/7 at 800-273-8255, press 1. Chatting also is available online at www.veteranscrisisline.net and by texting 838255.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.