JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan is planning to hold a pair of listening sessions intended to address suicides at Alaska military bases.
During his annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Tuesday, Sullivan said U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, a San Francisco Democrat and chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, would join him during the sessions. One will take place at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson later this week, and the other will take place at Fort Wainwright.
“It’s a horrible crisis. In the last four years, more soldiers have died in Alaska from suicide than were killed in action in Afghanistan. Forty. It shouldn’t be that way,” said Sullivan, who is also a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support.
Along with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sullivan and Speier this month sent a letter to Army Secretary Christine Wormuth asking for more support in addressing the high number of suicides at military bases in Alaska.
A Marine Corps reservist, Sullivan told lawmakers that when he was serving as an officer, one of the Marines under his command died by suicide.
“We were scheduled to have a drill weekend in a few days for the Anchorage-based Marine recon unit that we both served in. I told him, ‘Don’t worry, Marine, I’ll see you in a few days. You and I can tackle this issue together,’ " Sullivan said. “My Marine didn’t have a few days. I think about this tragic suicide a lot. What more could I have done? What more could the Marine Corps have done? We can do more, we know we can do more. We need to do more.”
The listening sessions will not be open to the public, Sullivan’s staff said, and are intended to allow the two members of Congress to hear from individual soldiers as they attempt to deal with the issue.
“I don’t know what the answer is. ... Let us know. We need everybody working on this,” Sullivan told lawmakers.
In other parts of his address, Sullivan urged lawmakers and other Alaskans to work together on federally funded infrastructure projects, advocacy for North Slope oil drilling, construction of the road between King Cove and Cold Bay, and federal land grants for Alaska Native veterans of the Vietnam War.