FORT HOOD — Bernie McGrenahan first captured the audience’s attention with jokes about dating and Cap’n Crunch cereal. He then brought them to tears with the story of his 19-year-old brother’s suicide — all in a 60-minute window.
“I pray you soldiers never do that to yourselves,” he said to troopers in Howze Theater on Tuesday morning. “It’s horrible. The bullet didn’t just go through my brother that day. It went through my mother who gave birth to him.”
The stand-up comedian’s Comedy with a Message program began in 1995 at universities and slowly spread into the military as an option for mandatory suicide prevention training.
McGrenahan said he’s been working with Fort Hood’s Suicide Prevention Program for about five years, and his current visit fell during National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
“I want soldiers across the world ... to know that there’s resources available should you get depressed or stressed and it is OK to talk, it’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of courage,” he said.
This year at Fort Hood, six soldiers have committed suicide, and Maj. Gen. Anthony Ierardi, senior post commander, emphasized that while that’s fewer than in previous years, even one is too many.
“We here will continue to strive to provide our soldiers the engaged leadership and programs that we hope will mitigate some of the challenges in their lives and the lives of their families and allow us to be able to help,” he said Tuesday. “To establish an environment where soldiers are comfortable to come forward in times of challenge in their lives and allow the chain of command and allow the programs we’ve established here to surmount the difficult times in their lives.”
The number of Fort Hood soldiers to commit suicide continually rises and falls, with 20 deaths in 2012 — double the previous year. In 2010, there were 22 confirmed suicide deaths — the highest number ever reported on post.
Sharon W. Sutton, Suicide Prevention Program manager at Fort Hood, said programs that increase the awareness of identifying at-risk behaviors and locating appropriate resources will continue to be their focus. Programs such as McGrenahan’s show allow that conversation to begin.
“When he gets in front of soldiers, they just love him,” she said. “His story is their story.”
Suicide deaths at Fort Hood:
- 2010 — 22
- 2011 — 10
- 2012 — 20
- 2013 — 6 to date
To speak to someone about suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.