In a heart-wrenching turn of events, Fort Jackson, the esteemed Army installation in South Carolina, is grappling with yet another tragedy as a second drill sergeant, Army Staff Sgt. Zachary L. Melton, 30, has been found dead in just over a week. The nation mourns as questions arise about the safety and well-being of our dedicated soldiers.

Sgt. Melton was discovered unresponsive in his car on Saturday, having failed to report for his assigned duty. The circumstances surrounding his untimely passing remain shrouded in mystery, with no immediate cause of death provided. The somber news was unveiled by military officials on Monday, casting a pall over the Fort Jackson community.

Brig. Gen. Jason E. Kelly, the commanding general of Fort Jackson, expressed the deep sorrow felt by all, stating, “We are extremely saddened by the loss of Staff Sgt. Melton. Our thoughts are with his family and the soldiers of the Always Forward battalion during this very emotional time.”

A dedicated soldier with over a decade of service, Sgt. Melton had spent the past three years molding young recruits as a drill sergeant. Hailing from Huntsville, Alabama, his commitment to the Army and his mission was unwavering.

This grim incident comes on the heels of another tragedy when, on December 8, Staff Sgt. Allen M. Burtram, 34, also a drill sergeant, was found dead under similar circumstances – failing to report for duty. The Army has enlisted the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division to look into both deaths, emphasizing its commitment to uncovering the truth.

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. Despite initial concerns, the Army has not discovered any evidence of foul play in either case, assuring the public of the ongoing investigations.

These unfortunate losses mark the third such incident at Fort Jackson this year. In June, Staff Sgt. Jaime Contreras was found dead after participating in a training exercise. Contreras, a drill sergeant candidate with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Liberty, North Carolina, went missing during a solo land navigation course. Despite extensive search efforts, he was found unresponsive late that evening, leaving the Army community in shock.

Fort Jackson, a crucial hub for Army basic training, accommodates more than 3,500 active-duty soldiers and graduates approximately 45,000 new trainees annually. The demands on drill sergeants are undeniably high, as highlighted by a 2021 study conducted by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

The study revealed that the workload takes a toll on drill sergeants’ mental health, with alarming rates of depression, insomnia, generalized anxiety disorder, burnout, functional impairment, alcohol misuse, off-duty aggression, and low morale reported. Drill sergeants endure intense 15-hour workdays for an average of 6.4 days per week during training cycles, an extreme level of dedication even within the Army.

The study urged policy changes to mitigate these challenges, advocating for an increase in the number of drill sergeants to reduce workload and provide sufficient time for rest and recovery.

As the Fort Jackson community mourns the loss of two dedicated drill sergeants, the nation watches closely, hopeful that answers will emerge, and lasting changes will be implemented to protect those who mold our nation’s finest soldiers. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and comrades of Staff Sgt. Melton and Staff Sgt. Burtram during this trying time.