We are getting conflicting information regarding the number of suicides that have occurred. The information we received on January 25th through a Freedom of Information, or FOIA Act request from Fort Wainwright's FOIA office said there were 4 confirmed suicides in 2018 and 2019, up until January 25th. Lieutenant Colonel Crighton of U.S. Army Alaska said that as of Friday, there are only 2 confirmed suicides from 2018 and 2019, and that the other 4 deaths are still under investigation.
Representatives from U.S. Army Alaska, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, and Fort Wainwright's FOIA office could not tell us why the FOIA information we received had different numbers.
In an interview, Chief of Public Affairs for U.S. Army Alaska, Lieutenant Colonel Martyn Crighton, gave a statement on the issue.
"Look, suicide is a national problem. I mean, we are suffering from the scourge of suicide nationwide. The Army is no different, the military is no different ...and because it is a priority for the Army, and so it is putting resources in from across force against it. Certainly, anything that could be done in terms of medical support and assessment is welcome."
Lieutenant Colonel Crighton said they are privileged to have the support, from not only the communities they live in, but from Alaska's representatives.
It was announced today that Congressman Don Young has sent a letter to LTG Nadja Y. West, Surgeon General of the U.S. Army and Commanding General of U.S. Army Medical Command. In his letter Young requests a MEDCOM team be sent to Fort Wainwright to examine the current state of affairs.
This comes after information was released concerning the number of deaths by suicide on Fort Wainwright since May of 2018. According to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) there have been 4 deaths by suicide 2018 – 2019. It goes along with press releases from U.S. Army Alaska stating that there have been 5 deaths of Ft. Wainwright soldiers between May 2018 and January 25th, 2019.
In addition to these numbers another soldier died in February after injuries sustained in his on-post home; his cause of death is still under investigation by U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.
In an interview from February 18th, 2019 with our staff reporter Sara Tewksbury, Young stated that he felt further psychological testing was necessary in military recruitment.
"What the military can do is not only the physical requirements, and the educational requirements, they ought to be doing a little more psychological testing and you can pick up some weaknesses, do they do well in a crowd? Do they do well in isolation? Do they do well by having to take commands all the time? You can find that out with the proper psychological test, whether they could or not, and if they don't, they don't get into the military."
Young went on to talk about his military service and how, in his opinion, the changes to on-base life contribute to suicide. The lack of connection created by individual living quarters makes it harder for unit members to keep tabs on each other. “They don't have that cohesive group, I call it, unit that you do have otherwise”, he said.
"I'm not gonna change it, congress isn't going to change it, it has to come from the military."
We have reached out to U.S. Army Alaska asking for a comment and will update as more comments become available.