Fort Jackson Soldier Who Went Missing During Training Died, Army Says

June 15, 2023
Fort Jackson main gate.

A soldier who went missing during a training exercise at Fort Jackson is dead, the U.S. Army said Wednesday.

Staff Sgt. Jaime Contreras, 40, was found unresponsive at about 11:20 p.m. Monday, Army officials said at a news conference.

The Army said it was not able to provide information about Contreras’ cause of death because it is still under investigation.

Contreras’ family has been notified and an investigation is underway, the Army said. Both Fort Jackson officials and the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division are looking into Contreras’ death.

“We’re all deeply saddened by this loss,” Fort Jackson’s commanding officer Brig. Gen. Jason Kelly said Wednesday at the news conference.

Kelly said that Contreras was participating with the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy as it conducted routine land navigation training. Contreras, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division from Las Vegas, was a drill sergeant candidate, according to the Army. He was beginning the eighth week of his ten week training, Kelly said.

The exercise started at about 10 a.m. Monday, according to Kelly.

Contreras was supposed to return at 1 p.m., but did not show, according to Kelly. A search was underway by 2 p.m.

The search was conducted on Fort Jackson grounds, but the area where the training was held was close to the post’s perimeter, according to Fort Jackson spokeswoman LA Sully. The training course covers about 1,500 acres, Kelly said.

Contreras was found about 50 meters away from the training course, John Ferrell, director of emergency services at Fort Jackson, said.

“However, that is very unforgiving terrain,” Ferrell said.

It is not uncommon for soldiers to wander off the course, Ferrell said.

Along with the Army, Kelly said the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the South Carolina Army National Guard assisted with the search.

“I want to express my personal gratitude to our community partners for their offering during this difficult time,” Kelly said. “We’ve got extremely close bonds here in the Midlands and these relationships proved extremely beneficial during this time.”

Contreras was located using air and ground resources as well as by tracking his cell phone, which he had with him during the training, Ferrell said.

Contreras’s class of drill sergeant candidates had previously completed the course in pairs the Friday before his death, the Army said. The candidates were training on the course individually when Contreras went missing.

A memorial service is being planned, Kelly said.

Fort Jackson is the nation’s largest military basic training base with more than 50,000 recruits assigned there each year.

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