FAIRBANKS, Alaska - The Behavioral Health Epidemiological Consultation or BH EPICON team has been at Fort Wainwright for the week, working on the first part of their public health study.
"All we're doing is some of the key leader interviews from the community, understanding the appreciation for the uniqueness of this community, compared to other communities, and we are then doing the focus group interviews to talk to the soldiers at the different rank levels, as well as the family members, spouses,” said Joseph Pecko, EPICON team lead.
The team can be requested to go to army posts for various reasons such as perceived increase in sexual assaults, drug use, or in this case, increased number of deaths.
"What General O'Neil has asked us to do, is to look at the fatalities, and so that's what we're doing. We know that there are two confirmed suicides, but we're looking at a cluster of 6 fatalities in a short period of time, relatively speaking, and so we know those fatalities and we're collecting information on those fatalities, we also use information from the armed forces medical examiner to help inform our look at those cases," said Pecko.
Pecko says they have partnered with other army installations to help enact the recommendations they give, if the installation wants them to, but it is not mandatory to follow up with the EPICON team.
"And our services will be available to USARAK and Fort Wainwright if they would like for us to partner with them on an ongoing basis after this initial assessment," said Pecko.
The data they are collecting is only the beginning of the study. "The hard work is yet to come, we have to go back home and take all this information that the community has willingly shared and really take it apart, understand it, so that when we make our recommendations, that they're meaningful and substantive so that the community will benefit from them," said Pecko.
Pecko says some of the unique factors they are considering in their assessment for Fort Wainwright, is the isolation and winters.