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Elmendorf commander dies of gunshot wound

Spokesman: Shot that killed brigadier general was likely self-inflicted

Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2008

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE - An Air Force brigadier general died of a gunshot wound that likely was self-inflicted, a spokesman said Monday.

Matt Hage / The Associated Press
Matt Hage / The Associated Press

Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Tinsley, the commander at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, suffered a gunshot wound to his chest late Sunday night and was pronounced dead within a half hour, said Col. Richard Walberg, who assumed command at Elmendorf after Tinsley's death.

"To the best information, it's possible it was a self-inflicted gunshot wound," Walberg said at a news conference. The weapon was likely a handgun.

Medical responders rushed to Tinsley's home on base but were unsuccessful in trying to save him. Tinsley's wife and college-age daughter were home at the time of the shooting.

Tinsley was named base commander in May 2007. He had served as an F-15 instructor pilot, F-15C test pilot, wing weapons officer, exchange officer and instructor with the Royal Australian Air Force.

His previous 22-month assignment was executive officer to the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. T. Michael "Buzz" Mosely, who in June resigned under pressure in an agency shake-up.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates ousted both Mosely, the Air Force military chief, and Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne, the agency's civilian head, holding them accountable for failing to fully correct an erosion of nuclear-related performance standards. One concern was a cross-country flight in August 2007 of a B-52 carrying armed nuclear weapons.

Walberg said Tinsley was not under investigation or undue stress.

"Gen. Tinsley was under no investigation," he said. "As far as stress, sir, this job, by nature of being an Air Force officer in a nation at war, is stressful. Undue stress, no."

Walberg lives across the street from the base commander's home.

He and his wife went to bed at about 10 p.m. Sunday and the base command post called about 10 to 15 minutes later.

"The individual on the end of the line was fairly agitated and said there was a report of a gunshot at Gen. Tinsley's house and people are screaming," Walberg said.

The colonel bolted out of the house with his wife behind him and met Col. Eli Powell, the 3rd Medical Group commander and an orthopedic surgeon, inside. Powell, who lives next door to Walberg, had also received a call. He started resuscitation efforts on Tinsley as family members watched.

Tinsley was declared dead at 10:30 p.m.

Representatives of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology will do a report and declare whether Tinsley's cause of death was suicide, Walberg said.

"We're assuming it was, and I'm not prepared to make that statement," he said. A report takes an average of 30 days to complete, he said.

Tinsley's outstanding achievement was the care he showed for those under his command, Walberg said.

"Brig. Gen. Tom Tinsley's best accomplishment in the 15 months or so that he's been the commander is his absolute love, and I mean love with a capital L, for his airmen. His first thought in the morning, his last thought at night for his professional family was how can I better take care of these airmen who are being sent in harm's way."

Walberg recalled his first contact with Tinsley 18 months ago. Over the phone, Tinsley introduced himself as "Pugs," his fighter pilot call sign.

"I said, 'Why is that important to me?'"

"He said, 'Dude, we're going to have a lot of fun together. I'm your boss.'"

The fighter pilot and the transport pilot traded good-natured barbs.

"And he was always right because he was a general and I was a colonel," he said.

"In the 13 months that we've worked together, I think we did a lot of great things together and we had a lot of fun," he said. "This is a real tragedy and I've lost a very, very good friend."



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