The commander at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina has suspended physical fitness assessments in the wake of two airmen’s recent deaths after running, and launched an investigation to see if PT caused their deaths.
Senior Airman Aaron Hall, 30, of the 20th Component Maintenance Squadron, experienced what the base called health complications last Wednesday during an official physical fitness assessment at one of Shaw’s running tracks. He died Saturday morning.
His death followed that of Senior Airman Amalia Joseph, 32, who had a medical emergency on Shaw’s other running track during her PT assessment May 24 and died early in the morning of May 26. She was from the same squadron as Hall.
Col. Derek O’Malley, commander of the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw, has suspended all PT testing at the base until further notice while the investigation into their deaths is under way, said Capt. Alannah Staver, the 20th’s chief of public affairs.
“It’s been a devastating couple of weeks here at Shaw, with the loss of our teammates,” O’Malley said in a statement released by Shaw. “We don’t know what caused these deaths, but we are exploring every possibility to get the answers we need to prevent this from happening again. … As you can imagine, we are struggling as a team after a very difficult last few weeks, but we will be as transparent as we possibly can as we work through this.”
Staver said O’Malley wants to know if anything related to the PT processes, or environmental factors related to the quarter-mile track or the 0.75-mile out-and-back track, caused the medical complications that resulted in Hall and Joseph’s deaths. Staver said the investigation includes testing the temperatures at the tracks, and O’Malley said the airmen’s work environment is also being examined.
“We’re trying to cast a wide net, to see if anything [related to the tracks or PT testing] might have caused it,” Staver said.
Staver said that due to investigations and HIPPA privacy requirements, the base could not say much more about the cause of their deaths. It is unclear whether the airmen collapsed or lost consciousness on the track.
Hall, who was 30 years of age, was an electronic warfare systems journeyman who joined the Air Force July 21, 2015, and had been stationed at Shaw since last March.
“Aaron was more than just our co-worker, he was our teammate and our friend,” squadron commander Maj. Jake Schillinger said in a Sunday release. “Each of us is feeling the hurt that comes along with such a painful loss. Aaron was the type of airman who lit up every room he entered with his smile and positive approach to life. He carried such a presence in our squadron and his absence will not go without a great deal of anguish in the coming days, weeks and months.”
O’Malley also expressed his sorrow at the deaths of Hall and Joseph, and said the base must remember “their faces, their smiles, their laughter, and the way they made us feel.”
“While these kinds of losses are part of life, especially in military service, that doesn’t make them any easier,” O’Malley said. “Our lives were better because we knew them, but our squadrons are so much emptier without them. As time passes, the wing and our mission will get back to some version of normal, but for the families and friends of these fallen airmen, these losses will never be normal. They will need our close support, not just this week, but in the weeks, months and years to come.”
O’Malley also said the base will also “honor their memories by striving to understand exactly what happened in each of these incidents, and we will do everything in our power to make sure these types of tragedies never happen again.”
A third Shaw airman also died within the past two weeks.
Senior Airman Jose Llanes, who had been missing for three days, was found dead May 21 after an apparent suicide, according to a base news release.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.