Col. Jennifer Reeves, commander of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom, announced the death of Airman 1st Class Ethan W. Potter, and the investigation into his death, in an email to the wing Tuesday afternoon. The email was posted on the unofficial Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page Wednesday.
“It is with profound sadness that I let you know about the death of one of our airmen,” Reeves wrote. “Our priority right now is caring for Ethan’s family and friends. As you know, it will be a crisis for them.”
John Turner, a spokesman for the 341st, said Potter’s death occurred off-base, and that the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office in Montana is investigating. Turner would not comment further about the circumstances of Potter’s death.
Reeves asked the base to keep Potter and his friends and family in their thoughts and prayers.
Potter is the fourth Malmstrom airman to die this year. Airman 1st Class Steven R. Gordon, 20, of the 341st Security Forces Squadron, was killed in a motorcycle accident northeast of Craig May 30, according to the Montana Highway Patrol and Malmstrom officials.
In her email about Potter, Reeves also referred to two other recent deaths of airmen at Malmstrom. Staff Sgt. Manuel Trevino died in January, and local station KRTV reported that he took his own life. Senior Airman Tristan Carlson also died in February, and another airman was charged with negligent homicide in his shooting death.
“I’ve been your commander for a minute now and I’ve had the sorrowful opportunity to learn about the several deaths we’ve had here at Malmstrom and what we think precipitated each of them,” Reeves said. “Each has been a tragic, permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
“It’s been said before … there’s no problem we can’t fix together,” Reeves said. “And remember, despite any problems, you still have friends, family, a future, and people who love you … none of them will think it’s worth your life … and they will be devastated without you.”
Reeves urged any airman who starts “going to a dark place” and “thinking dark thoughts” about not being able to handle a problem to call a friend for help, and said the wing will help them too.
“We’ll get you on the path to goodness again,” Reeves said. “It will happen. But you have to stay alive. Just stay alive.”
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.