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Commander tackles stress, suicides at Army's largest base

  • Story Highlights
  • Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch at Fort Hood had blunt conversation with Army wife over priorities
  • He instituted a family-first program, including orders to be home for dinner by 6
  • Fewer accidents, stress and suicides at largest Army base in U.S. now reported
  • "Suicide prevention board" meets weekly; Lynch usually chairs
From Larry Shaughnessy
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FORT HOOD, Texas (CNN) -- Families of tens of thousands of soldiers based at Fort Hood have one military wife to thank for a more normal routine at the base.

The Resiliency Campus at Fort Hood is aimed at improving a soldier's mind, body and spirit.

A blunt conversation with an Army wife started Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch on the path toward his family-first policies.

When Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch first took over as commander of the largest Army base in the United States, a soldier's wife approached him and gave him a talking to about how soldiers don't "really" get to spend time at home when they come home from war.

"She said 'General, don't talk to us about dwell time. Because my husband might as well be in Iraq,'" Lynch told CNN last week. "'He comes home after the kids go to bed, we never see him on weekends and you take him away to train all the time.'"

Lynch said that woman's comments "really hit me in the gut."

In response, Lynch made "focus on the family" a key part of Fort Hood's environment. He insists that every soldier on a day schedule leave work in to be home for dinner by 6 p.m. On Thursday, many are told to leave by 3 p.m. so they can have the afternoon with the family. And no one at Fort Hood works weekends unless Lynch signs off on it.

He likes to point out that when a soldier deploys overseas, the only thing he can't get is time with his family, so it's important to get it between deployments -- what the military calls "dwell time."

Lynch's "home by dinner" order creates a daily traffic jam on the base in Killeen, Texas, as tens of thousands of soldiers leave at once.

Master Sgt. Guadalupe Stratman enjoys Fort Hood's family-first attitude. She has a husband and three sons. When she's not cooking dinner after leaving the base, she's helping with homework or "just watching them grow."

It's not just about keeping military spouses and children happy, it's about creating a more resilient soldier; one less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, injure or kill himself in a traffic accident or fall to suicide, Lynch says.

It's working. No soldier has been killed on the roads around Fort Hood in more than 200 days. And although the base has seen two suicides since the start of the year, that is much less than some other major Army bases.

Lynch is taking other steps to battle stress and suicides at Fort Hood. He's opened a soldier "Resiliency Campus" -- a city-block-sized collection of buildings with programs and activities aimed at improving a soldier's mind, body and spirit.

And there is a weekly meeting of the base's "suicide prevention board," which Lynch usually chairs.

This isn't to say that all the soldiers at Fort Hood are completely well-adjusted and ready for their next deployment.

CNN spoke to one squad of soldiers who'd returned from a deployment to Fort Hood just a week before our visit.

One soldier said he has "anger issues. I get angry over a lot of little things." Others are bothered by crowds or just driving around town.

But even those young veterans, for whom the stress of being in a war zone continues after their return to their home base, have found ways to cope. The spend their off-hours together playing video games or just remembering what they went through together.

"Some of the roughest times we've had, we sit back and laugh," Pfc. Keven Abbott said. "We are very well together -- you cannot bring us down." Video Watch CNN's Barbara Starr report on sorrows and joys of returning home »


The successful fight against stress at Fort Hood is getting noticed at the Pentagon. Among others, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has praised Lynch's programs.

But just after CNN's visit to Fort Hood, the Defense Department sent out a news release announcing that Lynch would be moving on to his next job in the Army. What remains to be seen is whether his ideas about putting families first and creating "resilient soldiers" will carry on at Fort Hood after he leaves.

All About Fort HoodTexasU.S. Army

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