Wainwright leadership gives panel interview on soldier suicides

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska We sat down with officials from U.S. Army Alaska for a panel interview concerning the recent increase in deaths on Fort Wainwright. On the panel was Command Sergeant Major Jeffrey Dillingham, Chief of Behavioral Health at Bassett Army Community Hospital Commander Joe Holshoe, and U.S. Army Garrison Alaska Fort Wainwright Suicide Prevention Program Manager David Perkins.

On the panel was Command Sergeant Major Jeffrey Dillingham, Chief of Behavioral Health at Bassett Army Community Hospital Commander Joe Holshoe, and U.S. Army Garrison Alaska Fort Wainwright Suicide Prevention Program Manager David Perkins.

"So over the past year there has been seven deaths in the Fort Wainwright area, from army soldiers, one of those was a traffic accident, out of the other six, two of those have been classified as suicide, the other four are still pending investigation," said Dillingham. He then followed up with that this is a little bit higher than previous years. "If there's one death, that's a concern for us, seven deaths is very concerning, we are continuing to try to understand if there's trends, what are the matters behind the deaths, so that we can prevent any deaths in the future," said Dillingham.

Information was given to us fulfilling a Freedom of Information Act request on January 25th that said there were 4 confirmed suicides in 2018 and 2019 up until January 25th. There were 5 deaths in that time frame. Now, U.S. Army Alaska officials and U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command says there are only two confirmed suicides from 2018 to now.
In February, there was one more soldier death that is currently under investigation.

Questioning why the information they provided is now being conflicted, we have been in contact with officials from U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, and IMCOM Headquarters trying to get answers as to why the information we received is contradicting their current numbers. They were not yet able to give an answer as to why that might be.

When asked why those numbers might conflict, Dillingham says the medical determination on those deaths has been completed but the military investigation is still underway and that the command will not release an official classification until it is complete.

Dillingham says he does believe the line of communication is effective following the death of a soldier. “There’s an initial determination right off the bat, and with that information that we have, we take steps to try to improve services, to improve the community, to I won’t say let people know, because we’re not going to classify it, but if we see something as a concern, we definitely ask our service providers and medical professionals to assist us in preventing any future deaths,” said Dillingham.

When asked what leadership may be doing after these deaths, Dillingham said they look at each situation differently, “we continue to try to engage at the junior level, our soldier, the soldiers and NCO’s, within the formations are our first line of defense, we need them most to identify the problem so our professionals and our services, can help those soldiers become good soldiers who are ready to deploy, fight, and win,” said Dillingham.

“When a soldier dies and we’re not sure if it’s a suicide, or not, most of the units will get together around that death and discuss what they know and all of the commanders are really concerned about their soldiers and they will discuss if it was a possible suicide and they talk about it, they use the unit ministry teams, which is the chaplins, and the embedded behavioral health and Military Family Life Consultants to talk with the soldiers who may be feeling stressed about that loss,” said Suicide Prevention Program Manager David Perkins.

Commander Holshoe spoke to the EPICON or Epidemiological Consultation team that will be traveling to Ft. Wainwright next week. This is following a request from Congressman Don Young who sent a letter to the Surgeon General of the U.S. Army and Commanding General, U.S. Army Medical Command, requesting a MEDCOM team be sent to Fort Wainwright to study the situation as it relates to the reported suicides affecting the community.

“It’s a comprehensive epidemiological consult, it’s a team that comes in and looks at all factors on base, resources, culture, pretty much everything that they can look, to try to get a holistic view of any issues that may or may not be here,” said Holshoe.

This team is expected the week of April 15th. Dillingham says they will get some initial information back from the team but won’t get a full report until four to six months after.

“We will take that information as soon as we get it to improve our resources, when it comes to the number of deaths inside Fort Wainwright over the past year, this is a small community, our responsibility as part of your community, as far as the military is to take care of each other, the soldiers, the families and the members within Ft. Wainwright; so we appreciate the concern that you’re putting towards this, we’re just as concerned, I would say for the Ft. Wainwright and the Fairbanks area, continue to look out for each other, continue to take care of each other, we can’t be successful without each other,” said Dillingham.

Important Resources:

Fort Wainwright: Crisis Phone Numbers

Eielson AFB: Suicide Prevention

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Stop Suicide Alaska: http://www.stopsuicidealaska.org/

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: AFSP Alaska

Careline Crisis Intervention: Careline Information