U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy will hold a memorial service on June 20 at 2 p.m. at the Main Post Chapel to honor Staff Sgt. Jaime Contreras who was located at approximately 11:15 p.m., Monday, June 12. He was unresponsive and later pronounced dead at the scene.
The Army has a tradition of holding a memorial service to help the healing process of those left behind.
“Staff Sgt. Contreras’ absence is felt throughout his class, and it continues to be an extremely sad time for the entire organization,” said U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy Commandant Rickey Jackson. “We extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends during this difficult time.”
Contreras was attending the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy when he went missing Monday afternoon during land navigation training. The academy candidates were provided with points to locate within a preestablished completion time. The Mekong Delta land navigation site covers approximately 1,538 acres.
After Staff Sgt. Contreras did not return to the starting point for the land navigation course at the appointed time, U.S. Army drill sergeant leaders contacted the Commandant and the Directorate of Emergency Services and immediately began the search.
Over 100 personnel, including Richland County Sherriff’s Office, the S.C. Law Enforcement Division and other law enforcement partners assisted in finding Staff Sgt. Contreras.
He was 40 years old, whose home of record is in Las Vegas, Nevada, and was a drill sergeant candidate in his eighth week of a 10-week class. Contreras was a member of the 1st Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 82nd Division Artillery, 82nd Airborne Division stationed at Fort Liberty (formerly Fort Bragg), North Carolina.
Contreras had 12 years of service and has served with the 82nd Airborne Division since January 2014 as a Food Service Operations Noncommissioned Officer and Advanced Culinary Noncommissioned Officer.
Contreras earned the Army Commendation with “C” device during a deployment to Afghanistan in 2013, while assigned to 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division.
Fort Jackson Commander Brig. Gen. Jason E. Kelly held a press conference on June 12 at 10 p.m. in the hopes of having the public help in the search for Contreras.
Then, on June 14, Kelly, along with community partners, provided an update after next of kin notification had been complete. Army regulations have changed in recent years that dictates 24 hours after next of kin notification before providing information to the public. This allows for family members, who might be living in different time zones, a chance to receive the news by the casualty assistance teams.
The press conference was held at 10 a.m. on Fort Jackson. We are deeply saddened by the loss of Staff Sgt. Contreras,” Kelly said. “We are providing support to his family and teammates during this difficult time and will continue to do so.”
Here is the link from the press conference on June 14:
For the Army, in all cases of death or significant injury, a Line of Duty Investigation must be completed, generally by a commissioned officer. Line of Duty investigations determine the duty status of the soldier at the time of the incident, and if misconduct was involved, to what degree. They are also used to determine whether the soldier had an existing-prior-to-service condition, and, if so, whether this condition has been aggravated by service. The findings of the investigation will determine what benefits the Soldier and/or family members may receive.
“Right now, several entities are researching the facts and looking at the incident holistically,” Kelly said. “As information becomes available, we will provide that information back to the family as they have the first right to know. Then, we will provide the information to the public per the surviving family’s wishes.”
Additional investigations often associated with Line of Duty Investigations include law enforcement, safety investigations, and AR 15-6 administrative investigations. As part of these additional investigations, an independent investigator/investigative team is assigned to research the facts and identify root causes so we here at Fort Jackson can continuously improve the quality, relevance and effectiveness of the training experience while remaining aligned with Army standards. AR 15-6 investigations further determine the facts of the incident, make findings, and provide recommendations. Depending on the complexity of the case, investigations can take anywhere from weeks to months.
The findings and recommendations of the multiple ongoing investigations will be used to improve procedures and make any necessary changes to operations as well as to identify any wrongdoing or areas of concern to serve as a basis for further investigation and/or punitive action.
All investigating officers are advised by an attorney during the conduct of the investigation and receive a formal legal review by a different attorney before the findings and recommendations are approved by the commander.