Second Fort Jackson Drill Sergeant Found Dead on Base This Month

December 19, 2023
U.S. Army drill sergeants campaign hat hangs atop a post

For the second time in less than two weeks, a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, has been found dead.

Staff Sgt. Zachary Melton, 30, a drill sergeant with 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, was found Saturday in his vehicle on the installation after he didn’t report to work. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The grim news follows the discovery of the body of 34-year-old Staff Sgt. Allen Burtram, a drill sergeant with 2nd Battalion 13th Infantry Regiment, who was also found dead on base on Dec. 8. A cause of death has not been released by the Army for either fatality.

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The two deaths are unrelated and there is no apparent evidence of foul play, Tom Byrd, a spokesperson for the installation, told Military.com. Military chaplains and behavioral health personnel are being provided to support members of the units.

“Our thoughts are with his family and the soldiers of the Always Forward battalion during this very emotional time,” Brig. Gen. Jason E. Kelly, Fort Jackson’s commanding general, said in a statement.

Fort Jackson is the premier installation for basic training, graduating some 45,000 new trainees every year. Drill sergeant is broadly considered one of the most grueling assignments in the Army, with those noncommissioned officers working long hours, frequently away from their families for extended periods, and sleep deprived. At the same time, those assignments are typically seen as prestigious in the force and can open up career opportunities.

The extreme workload compounds other issues, with drill sergeants reporting difficulty finding time to exercise and having family issues. In recent years, Fort Jackson officials have poured resources into the health of drill sergeants, including a high-end fitness facility with many of the accoutrements of a CrossFit gym in addition to cold plunge tubs, a yoga studio and wrestling mats for jiu-jitsu training.

In a first of its kind study in 2021 by Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, researchers surveying 856 drill sergeants found 19% of them suffered from depression, 27% had symptoms of moderate to severe insomnia, and 35% reported abusing alcohol. A drill sergeant’s workday is nearly 15 hours long, and they work an average of 6.4 days per week. With drill sergeants serving a minimum of two years in the role, that level of intensity is “extreme, even within the Army,” the study found.

In an internal study for the Marine Corps in 2019, that service found that 55% of drill sergeants received a mental health diagnosis at some point in their career, with many of those diagnoses occurring during or after their assignment, compared to 22% of those who never serve in a special duty assignment. Marine drill instructors are also three times more likely to have a divorce.

Active-duty troops, veterans and family members who need help can call the Military Crisis Line/Veterans Crisis Line at 988, chat at veteranscrisisline.net, or text to 838255.

Related: Overworked Drill Sergeants Offered Brief Reprieve at Basic Training Battalion

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