3 Airman Deaths at Minot Air Force Base in October Have Left the Community Reeling

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Heavy fog covers a sign at the front of the entrance at Minot Air Force Base.
Heavy fog covers a sign at the front of the base entrance at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, Aug. 16, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Alysa Knott)

Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota is dealing with the deaths of three airmen last month, causing an outcry from community members and pushing military officials to increase mental health resources at the remote installation.

Capt. Christopher Thibeaux-Moore, a spokesman for the base, told Military.com in an emailed statement that there was a "loss of three airmen in October" and Minot is "actively working to provide extensive mental health and resilience resources to struggling individuals."

Details about the deaths -- such as whether they are attributable to accidents, illness, training or suicide -- were not disclosed by the base, which said they are currently under investigation. The Air Force has, in the past, cited Pentagon and internal suicide prevention policies to Military.com as justification for not releasing more information regarding deaths at various installations.

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"The loss of any airman affects us as a team," Col. Kenneth McGhee, 91st Missile Wing commander, said in an emailed statement. "We aim to respect the privacy and care of our members and their families in the wake of these events, and we must continue to advocate for various support systems through the Air Force and the local community to ensure that those who need to seek help are able to do so."

Community members in Minot, North Dakota, have been sounding alarms about the string of deaths. Last week, one woman in the community stood near a busy bridge for several days with a sign that said "3 Days for 3 Lives Lost" in an attempt to raise awareness about mental health issues in the military, according to a report from the Minot Daily News.

The woman, Lisa Hermosillo, told the local newspaper that there has not been proper information from the base about the situation.

"They said they wanted to respect the families and didn't want too much information getting out. I heard [about] it because airmen were changing their profile pictures on Facebook to honor the person who died," Hermosillo told the Minot Daily News. "Some airmen reached out to me saying they didn't even know deaths had happened until they saw a TikTok I made. How do we come together as a base and community if the problem is going to be isolated?"

The installation is a crucial component in America's nuclear triad -- the combination of land, sea and air-fired missiles that can react at a moment's notice in a national security emergency.

Minot Air Force Base operates two legs of the triad, housing the 5th Bomb Wing's B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers and the 91st Missile Wing's Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The northern base, located near the Canadian border, has often been criticized as one of the least desired duty stations among airmen due to its cold climate and remote location.

The entire active-duty Air Force tracked 64 deaths by suicide in 2022, for a rate of 19.7 per 100,000 airmen, according to annual suicide statistics released last month. Minot Air Force Base is home to more than 5,400 military service members, 677 civilians and more than 5,000 dependents, according to a base fact sheet.

Col. Daniel Hoadley, the 5th Bomb Wing commander, said in a statement that extra chaplains, counselors and mental health professionals have been made available in the wake of the deaths. Additionally, more counselors have been embedded in the affected squadrons.

"This is not a topic that leadership teams take lightly, and there is considerable effort put in to prevent and respond to these tragedies," Hoadley said. "There are a variety of resources in place to provide support systems for our airmen and families in times of need."

Air Force officials have been tight-lipped about deaths at other bases, such as Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. When it was revealed that there had been 17 deaths of personnel tied to Tinker, the service and base declined to provide Military.com with the number of those deaths that were attributed to suicide. It said only that 11 of the deaths were attributed to illnesses or natural causes and accidents, and the other six were from "other causes" under investigation.

The string of deaths at Minot also comes as Air Force officials investigate whether troops in a wide assortment of jobs who have served at any of the nation's intercontinental ballistic missile bases are at risk for Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other cancers.

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at thomas.novelly@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

Related: Amid Deaths, Tinker Air Force Base Remains Tight-Lipped on Number of Suicides

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