Battleland

A Visit With General Dana Pittard

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DoD Photo / Glenn Fawcett

Major General Dana Pittard, left, commander of the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, shows Defense Secretary Leon Panetta around the Texas post earlier this year.

I just returned home from my third trip to Fort Bliss in two months. I made the first two trips so that I could learn about the installation and the leadership’s approach to preventing soldier suicide. On this most recent visit I was invited to help train officers as part of the Army-wide Suicide Prevention Stand Down that occurred on September 27.

Fort Bliss is located in El Paso, Texas—barely a stone’s throw from the Mexican border. Home to the 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss is one of the Army’s largest installations, with approximately 30,000 soldiers. It also has one of the lowest suicide rates in the Army.

I met the commanding general of the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss, Dana Pittard, through rather unusual circumstances.

In May 2012 Major General Pittard received national attention for a blog that he wrote following the suicide of a Fort Bliss soldier. In his blog, he referred to suicide as an “absolutely selfish act” and implored soldiers to “be an adult, act like an adult and deal with your real life problems like the rest of us.”

He drew widespread criticism for his comments and later issued the following statement: “I realize that my statement was not in line with the Army’s guidance regarding sensitivity to suicide . . . With my deepest sincerity and respect towards those whom I have offended, I retract that statement.”

I was interviewed by the press—and later asked to write a column—about the general’s statements. Through a bit of research, I learned that General Pittard’s comments were written shortly after he returned from the memorial service of a soldier who had killed himself in front of his six-year-old twin daughters.

My comments about his blog focused on the impact of suicide on those who survive it, the anger that survivors feel at the person who chooses to end life rather than continue to struggle with the demons that torment them. While not excusing the comments that came across as uncaring, I attempted to make sense of them. Soon after my column was published, I received an invitation to visit Fort Bliss.

I had no idea what to expect from General Pittard, and I was very surprised by what I found.

The general is a quiet, thoughtful, and unassuming man who is intensely passionate about preventing what he refers to as “preventable soldier deaths.” He believes that we can and must improve the overall psychological well-being and the resilience of the force. He believes that we can and must change military culture so that those in need of mental health care seek it when they need it and those in need of intervention are identified as quickly as possible.

He also believes that we can and must prevent high risk and self-destructive behavior among those who are struggling with issues that perhaps even they are unable to identify or articulate. Most important, General Pittard believes that suicide prevention—and the overall well-being of the force—is a leadership issue. Time and resources must be devoted to these concerns, but nothing will change if leaders fail to take proper ownership of the issues at hand.

And indeed there is growing evidence regarding the consequences of our failure to address these concerns for those who serve. An article in the September 29 Austin American-Statesman revealed that an alarming number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who came home to Texas after leaving the military have died as a result of suicide, drug overdoses,  and car accidents.

Fort Bliss has implemented numerous initiatives and programs to accomplish the goal of creating the most healthy and resilient military community in the country. While most of these programs are not unique to the Texas installation, the manner in which they are promoted, championed, and supported is quite unusual—and General Pittard’s efforts seem to be making a difference.

Every soldier with whom I spoke, regardless of rank or position, expressed tremendous respect and fondness for their general. Many admitted to me that when they first arrived at “Team Bliss” and heard about the commitment to soldiers and families, they assumed that this was just another gimmick. What they found was a general who is intensely serious about these priorities, a general who puts action behind the rhetoric.

But General Pittard isn’t satisfied with what has been accomplished thus far. He is already moving to expand those programs that are working, and he is open to identifying additional tools and initiatives that can help his soldiers and their families. For example, he is looking to expand Fort Bliss’s efforts to engage the larger El Paso community because he recognizes that there are unexplored opportunities and willing partners that can help him harness available community-based resources.

Although I didn’t ask General Pittard specifically about the comments he made last May, I suspect that the anger he expressed that day—about a soldier who indeed was unable to think of anything other than his own pain—resulted from his assumption that every soldier can and should be saved and his belief that it is his responsibility to ensure that they are.

Rumor has it that General Pittard’s career may have been severely damaged as a result of his comments. I hope this isn’t the case. We need leaders like General Pittard both at Fort Bliss and in the Pentagon, if we are to end the current suicide epidemic within the Army, improve its health and fitness, and prepare it to start doing more with less.

12 comments
mocha
mocha like.author.displayName 1 Like

I know this is a late comment but it still affects our community here in El Paso/Fort Bliss. The General's statements were that of a concerned leader, a human being who is a father. Some say that his statements were horrible and unprovoked but that is untrue. His statements were provoked, provoked by the act of a soldier who is a part of Team Bliss in which Gen. Pittard is the leader. The soldier who killed himself did so in front of his children thereby mentally harming them. I know a few soldiers and family members who have sought help after his statement was made and that is to be commended. If people had the facts then they would understand that. General Pittard is an advocate for self-preservation and the fact that his statement was matter-of-fact, shouldn't be a reason to condemn him. He, along with others only want soldiers, family members and others to seek help and realize that if they harm themselves, they are harming others in the process.  Sometimes the only way to keep someone from falling into a ditch is to snatch them back up forcefully out of love, care and concern...when that is done, it doesn't feel good, but it saves a life.

GarrettBerntsen
GarrettBerntsen

This is the weakest puff piece I've ever read, Time should be embarrassed for letting this drivel be associated with their name.  The author even ADMITS "Although I didn’t ask General Pittard specifically about the comments he made last May," and yet we are supposed to take this piece seriously?  I can tell you any General who trips up and actually gives his honest opinion, which is what this one did when he posted his awful message, is going to do everything he can in the media to cover it up and show a true dedication for supporting suicide prevention...  Luckily Time and Van Dahlen have obliged this GO in helping to repair his image.  

holtbri
holtbri like.author.displayName 1 Like

Major General Pittard is absolutely right, suicide is a self-centered act. This is not to say that it is not tragic and sad, but the fact is that an over emphasis on "self" is a key ingredient. Kudos to you General for having the intestinal fortitude to "tell it like it is".

TOP NCO
TOP NCO like.author.displayName 1 Like

My bet is that michaeleff is not a soldier at Fort Bliss or he would be better informed.

TOP NCO
TOP NCO like.author.displayName 1 Like

Taylor, your father is a great leader who has helped save many lives. You can be very proud.

TOP NCO
TOP NCO

I am absolutely disgusted by the comments against GEN Pittard.  I have served with him in combat and at Fort Bliss.  Anybody who knows GEN Pittard knows that he is the real deal.  He is tough, but, he is a very caring leader.  He constantly is trying to get soldiers to seek help for behavioral health issues.  I can tell you that he believes that seeking help is a strength and not a weakness.   He has dramatically improved things at Fort Bliss over the past two years.  It is no accident that Fort Bliss and 1AD have one of the lowest suicide rates in the Army.  GEN Pittard does not ask his soldiers to do anything that he would not do himself  -- he leads by example.  Michaeleff is a liar and is full of crap.     

LastWaltz
LastWaltz

Maybe the IG Hot Line needs to take a hard look at Pittard.  Perhaps it is time to review all the involuntary discharges at Fort Bliss under his watch and verify how many of these soliders/Vets filed for VA disability after they were thrown out.

LastWaltz
LastWaltz

We're still suffering at our house because of the reprisal by the Army for reporting the preventable but multiple suicides of their U.S. Army Recruiting Command (USAREC)  combat Vets/Recruiters.  The DOD IG Hot Line is investigating again - first investigation - they dropped - now they've opened it up again - in the meantime, the personal and financial devastation here piles up.  Pittard is in the same league as the CG at Hood, the retiree at USAAC, the current CG at USAREC and the Chair, Joint Chiefs, former CG TRADOC.  How could the author miss that Pittard doesn't care, period.

michaeleff
michaeleff

Having worked w/ Gen Pittard, I can say categorically that his statements regarding suicide last may reflected how he truly feels about all suffering with mental health issues: i.e. that  they are weak and that they lack the self discipline to pull themselves together. His entire focus was how we could most expeditiously get Soldiers out of the Army that displayed any kind of weakness, particularly to do with mental health woes. The author should be ashamed that she should participate in the damage control machine.

Taylor Pittard
Taylor Pittard like.author.displayName 1 Like

Well that is just not true. You've worked with him, but I've lived with him; he's my dad. General Pittard's comments on suicide were taken out of context and are not indicative of what he believes. On behalf of people who actually know the facts and the man himself, keep your negative and inaccurate comments to yourself.

michaeleff
michaeleff

I'm sorry, but my father treats me differently than my boss, and what is said around the dinner table is different than what is said in the office. And your father made a horrible, unprovoked statement that discouraged dozens of Soldiers from getting help. I've heard his opinions on Soldiers with mental health issues, and the opinion is this: they are weak, and they are not fit to be part of the Army. The fact that he was truthful in his feelings for once on his blog demonstrates his true feelings.

anonguest7619
anonguest7619

yup. those who are in the inner circle (i.e. senior officers and NCOs) will never give the unvarnished truth. Everyone else gets the party line. Reporter was completely duped. Why didn't the reporter attempt to talk to people who are actually suffering with depression under his command? Ask them how they are treated? Instead the reporter took the easy way out and did what she was told by the general.

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