Two Drill Sergeants Found Dead at Fort Jackson

The U.S. Army is investigating the deaths of two drill sergeants at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, both found unresponsive within a span of eight days. The latest casualty, Staff Sgt. Zachary L. Melton, 30, was discovered in his car on Saturday after he failed to show up for his assigned duty. The cause of death has not been disclosed.

Brig. Gen. Jason E. Kelly, the commanding general at Fort Jackson, expressed deep sorrow over Melton’s death. He extended his condolences to Melton’s family and the soldiers of the Always Forward battalion, acknowledging the emotional toll of the loss. Melton, a native of Huntsville, Alabama, had served in the Army for over a decade, spending the last three years as a drill sergeant. His unit had just completed its latest basic training cycle last Thursday.

Melton’s death follows that of Staff Sgt. Allen M. Burtram, 34, who was found dead on December 8 after he failed to report for work. Burtram, a native of Cleveland, Alabama, had served in the Army for 12 years and had been stationed at Fort Jackson for the past 18 months. The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division is probing both deaths.

These incidents mark the third death at Fort Jackson this year. In June, Staff Sgt. Jaime Contreras, 40, was found dead after participating in a training exercise. Contreras, a drill sergeant candidate from Las Vegas, was part of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Liberty, North Carolina. He was found unresponsive after failing to return from a solo land navigation course at the base.

Fort Jackson, home to over 3,500 active-duty soldiers, is a leading facility for Army basic training, graduating approximately 45,000 new trainees each year. The recent deaths have brought attention to the mental health of drill sergeants. A 2021 study by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research surveyed 856 drill sergeants and found that a significant number suffered from mental health issues, including depression, insomnia, anxiety, burnout, and low morale. The study also highlighted the intense workload of drill sergeants, who typically work 15-hour days for an average of 6.4 days per week during a training cycle.

The study recommended policy changes, such as increasing the number of drill sergeants to reduce workload and allow for adequate recovery and sleep time. As the Army grapples with these recent losses, these recommendations may provide a path forward to ensure the well-being of those entrusted with training the next generation of soldiers.