The Gadsden Times on increasing suicide rates among military personnel:

We expect U.S. military personnel — soldiers, marines, sailors, airmen and seamen — to be heroes, whether they’re directly involved in the most vicious conflicts or working behind the scenes far from harm’s way.

Some may dispute that contention, but be honest. The enormous respect and gratitude deservedly granted to those who have served or are serving — especially in places like Gadsden and Etowah County, whose residents “support the troops” every time they can — tag them as something special.

We offer no criticism of that attitude — there are too many examples of ordinary people doing supernatural things on the battlefield, even if they protest afterward that they were “just doing my job” — but we’ll mention something that often gets overlooked. These heroes are human beings, subject to the same flaws, frailties, imperfections and pressures as the rest of us who belong to that species.

As human beings, they also possess breaking points that have been reached too many times in recent years.

Last fall, the Department of Defense released its annual Suicide Report, which included data for 2018. It found that 541 active duty or reserve military personnel killed themselves that year, an increase of 5.9% from 2017 and 12.2% from 2016.

Sixty percent of those suicides — 325 — involved active duty personnel, which signaled a 34% increase since 2013.

Which service branch saw the most significant increase? Not the Army or the Marines, who have carried the heaviest combat loads in the close to 20-year war on terror in the Middle East, but the Air Force.

It had 84 active duty suicides in 2018, a 25% increase over the 60 recorded in 2017 and, according to data cited by the Associated Press, its highest one-year total ever. There’s talk that the 2019 numbers may be worse.

Air Force officials say the situation “has the full attention of leadership,” same as the other branches. Unfortunately, it’s not a problem that can be fixed with a battle plan or military tactics, because it’s part of a broader trend.

The suicide rate for all Americans has climbed by 35% since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The increase from 2017 to 2018 was small, just two-tenths of a percent, but the arrow remains pointed upward.

Also, statistical research published by the American Medical Association has shown that combat deployment isn’t the major reason for the recent surge in military suicides, nor in any prevalence of suicide in other U.S. military conflicts. The researchers are working to identify the factors behind the trend.

We’ll predict that, again, since human beings are involved, it’s likely to mirror what’s happening with those who don’t wear this country’s uniform. It’s a problem that, as an Air Force official observed, “without easily identifiable solutions.”

So what can you do? If a family member, friend or acquaintance is in the military, and something doesn’t seem right — and we’re quite aware that the first indication of a problem often is the act of suicide itself — be proactive.

Make them aware that there are resources available, like the Military Crisis Line (800-273-8255, press 1; or text 838255) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255).

Most importantly, make sure they know there’s no shame in heroes asking for help.

The Cullman Times on a proposed one-cent sales tax for local school improvements:

In just one month, Cullman voters will be going to the polls to make important decisions on taxes and representation.

We implore voters to use this time to educate yourself on the issues and the candidates so you are fully informed when you cast your vote.

The Cullman County School Board is asking voters to approve a one-cent sales tax for school improvements, additional safety features and a new career tech academy. Over the next few weeks, Superintendent Shane Barnette is hosting several community meetings to discuss what’s being proposed.

We encourage you to go to one of the sessions. You can also visit keepcullmangreat.com, but attending at least one session allows you to hear the information firsthand and ask questions. Even if you don’t have a child in local school systems, this issue is important to our community and as taxpayers.

Another school issue on the ballot will be decided by voters across the state. In Amendment 1, voters are being asked to decide if the State Board of Education should be renamed the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education, and, more importantly, if the members should be appointed by the governor, rather than elected as they are now.

Ballotpedia.org has a basic explanation of the amendment, its history and comments from supporters and detractors, which is a good place to start your research. Our legislative delegation would also be a good source of information. Cullman State Senator Garlan Gudger was one of the bill’s sponsors, and Cullman’s representatives in the House all voted in favor of it.

Then there are the candidates on the ballot. Cullman County voters will have to choose among four candidates to be the next Chairman of the County Commission. Candidates always seem to run on the better roads platform, and while that is important, there are many other issues facing the county.

The Times will be running Q&As with the four candidates to help you get to know their positions better, but they are members of our community and easily accessible if you have your own set of questions.

Another high-profile race is the primary election for the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. This is a crowded field, so it’s likely there will be a runoff to decide who faces Senator Doug Jones in November.

The candidates have made several stops in Cullman, and we will bring you interviews with some in upcoming weeks, but do your own research on what their values and positions are.

None of your research will matter, though, unless you vote. Participating in our election process is a basic requirement of good citizenship. Feb. 17 is the last day you can register to vote in the primary election.

Be sure you are registered, informed and ready to cast your ballot on March 3.

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