Alaska’s sole U.S. representative is asking Army medical officials to investigate a series of deaths at Fort Wainwright this year, saying they show the battle against military suicides “is far from over.”

In a Tuesday letter to the Army’s surgeon general, Lt. Gen. Nadja West, Rep. Don Young asks that West send a team to the Fairbanks post “as the number of military suicides continues to climb in Alaska,” affecting the tight-knit “military-veteran community.”

“This is especially true in Alaska, which has made these deaths particularly alarming for the local community, and has raised many questions about the mental health and well-being of our servicemembers,” Young wrote.

Three soldiers stationed at Fort Wainwright have died in 2019, including Sgt. Jorden Thomas Williams, 25; Spc. Ashvin James Slaughter, 24; and Sgt. Brian Peter Sawyer, 33. Williams’ body was found Jan. 2 at his North Pole home, and Slaughter’s was discovered Jan. 18 in a company arms room.

Sawyer was found injured at his on-post home on Feb. 3. He was medevaced to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, where he died of those injuries at the base hospital on Feb. 11.

U.S. Army Alaska spokesman Lt. Col. Martyn Crighton said Tuesday afternoon that Young’s letter proves how closely Alaska’s military community is linked to its elected officials.

“Nobody denies that suicide is a problem,” Crighton said. “It’s not just a problem for the Army; it’s a problem for the country.”

Fort Wainwright soldiers have “world-class” care available to them through Bassett Army Hospital, Crighton said. The hospital’s behavioral health unit, as well as confidential military and family life counseling provided by contractors, are among the fort’s immediate resources available to soldiers at risk of taking their own lives.

“Preventing suicides is an Army priority, and anything that can be done to further that priority and reduce the risk of suicide — or preferably stamp out the possibility of suicide, full stop — anything that can be done to further that effort is indeed welcome,” Crighton said.

Crighton couldn’t confirm whether any of this year’s fatalities among the fort’s soldiers were a result of suicide. He said their deaths were investigated by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, which hasn’t yet provided its reports to U.S. Army Alaska.

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