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Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a speech Wednesday that the military needs to train its soldiers in “psychological fitness” as a way to stem the growing problem of suicides.

Speaking at the annual Association of the U.S. Army convention in Washington, Adm. Mullen said the head of a task force on suicide prevention in the military has urged military members, veterans and their families to “attack the stigma” of seeking help for psychological problems.

The military’s warriors are also human beings and “calling for help” to deal with depression and other mental ailments is no different than seeking help for other needs, he said.

Adm. Mullen said the military needs to build up “resilience” of soldiers in basic training. “We need to teach soldiers psychological fitness skills, just as surely as we teach them to march, wear a uniform or fire a weapon,” he said.

The comments by the chairman come as the Army on Wednesday launched a $17 million program to study which suicide prevention programs work best.

The three-year project will look at various aspects of suicide in order to find which methods can be used best to prevent suicides.

Between 2005 and 2009, more than 1,100 U.S. military members committed suicide.

“We know we’re not going to solve the suicide problem in the military with this three-year research consortium,” Army Col. Carl Castro, director of the Military Operational Medicine Research Program at Fort Detrick, Md., told the Associated Press. “But what we hope to do at the end of this three years is to lay a very solid foundation on which other research can be built.”

Don’t ask in Afghanistan

Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of Task Force Leatherneck located in the heart of southern Helmand Province, Afghanistan, told reporters this week that the legal wrangling over the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays has had no impact on the Marines fighting the Taliban.

“Here down on the ground level here in Afghanistan, there is no impact at all,” Gen. Osterman said of a recent federal judge’s decision striking down the law, and a subsequent appeals court upholding it.

“I think it’s safe to say that most of the Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen that I have underneath my charge really are not that aware of a lot of the dialogue that’s going on,” he said.

Most of the Marines fighting in Helmand are “living in 15-man patrol bases where they’re lucky to have some fresh water … or some kind of shelter over their head beyond a tent,” he said.

Gen. Osterman said the Marines are out of touch with the controversy, “and I also don’t know that they necessarily would take it as problematic in terms of the dialogue.”

“They understand that, as Marines, we’ll follow whatever laws are in place, and also whatever policies are promulgated by the secretary of defense,” he said. “So really, basically, we’ll follow, you know, whatever policy is promulgated there and move on.”

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