Fort Jackson launches investigation into death of 82nd Airborne Division soldier

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Published: Jun. 14, 2023 at 9:07 AM EDT
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FORT JACKSON, S.C. (WIS) - According to Fort Jackson officials, an investigation is being launched into the death of a soldier who didn’t return from a land navigation training.

The soldier was identified by the military installation as SSG Jaime Contreras, a drill sergeant candidate who had 12 years of service.

Contreras was reported missing around 1:30 p.m. on June 12.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Commanding General Brig. Gen. Jason E. Kelly said Contreras’ cause of death isn’t known yet.

The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division is investigating, which is standard procedure, according to officials, and more information will be provided as it becomes available.

Contreras was originally from Las Vegas, Nevada, but was stationed at Fort Liberty, North Carolina. He was a member of the 1st Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 82nd Division Artillery, 82nd Airborne Division.

Kelly went on to say the 40-year-old soldier had recently begun his eighth training week out of ten for the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy at Fort Jackson.

“Candidates were provided points to locate within a pre-established completion time,” Kelly said. “When SSG Contreras did not return within the allocated time, drill sergeant leaders immediately notified United States Army Drill Sergeant Academy commandant and Fort Jackson Emergency Services.”

He added a search for Contreras immediately took place.

Officials stated the land navigation site covers about 1,500 acres. After more than 100 community members commenced a search — including South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD), and other law enforcement partners who provided air and ground assistance — Contreras was found around 11:20 p.m. that night.

According to Incident Commander Major John Ferrell, a cell phone ping helped find his body which was about 50 meters from the course.

Fort Jackson explained soldiers taking land navigation courses typically leave around 10 a.m. and return at 1 p.m. Kelly also said Contreras’ class was present, but the candidates were executing the training individually.

Kelly said support is being provided to Contreras’ family and teammates and plans are underway for his memorial service.

Contreras served at the 82nd Airborne Division since January 2014 as a Food Service Operations Noncommissioned Officer and Advanced Culinary Noncommissioned Officer.

According to his service record, Contreras was listed as “single” with no dependents.

Fort Jackson officials also added 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.

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