SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (WIS) - An airman stationed at Shaw Air Force Base has died, Col. Derek J. O’Malley, Commander for the 20th Fighter Wing, confirmed in a video Wednesday morning.
U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Christopher Rhoton was found dead in his home, located off the base, on the afternoon of Tuesday, Aug. 13.
Serving in the Air Force since 2003, Rhoton was stationed at Shaw in October 2018 as a member of the 20th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
Rhoton took his own life, Major Allen Dailey with the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office confirmed.
In the video posted by O’Malley on Wednesday, the commander spoke with sadness and disbelief.
“Here we are again, I can’t believe it,” O’Malley said. “I wake up everyday, my command team, we wake up everyday to try to make this place a better place. There’s so much we try to do, so much more we need to do. But none of that matters right now because we lost another one of our own.”
This is the fifth death of an airman stationed at the base in 2019, and the third confirmed suicide, according to Sumter County Coroner Robert Baker.
In the coming days, all Air Force bases, including Shaw, are taking what they call a resiliency day -- a day focusing on the well-being of the airmen, officials at Shaw confirmed.
This is a direct response to the rising number of suicides among the Air Force, according to the Air Force Times. That article, posted at the beginning of August, said 78 airmen have taken their own lives so far in 2019.
The resiliency day will also be a chance for airmen to check in with each other. It has been in the works for months now, officials at Shaw said.
“In the days to come, let’s try to have a productive dialogue,” O’Malley said. “And let’s be kind. Truly kind. And remember once and for all that we are all on the same team.”
O’Malley called for the airmen to be focused on the family who is grieving right now. He said he hopes to make some real change on the base going forward.
“I wish that I could know every one of your names, and know your stories and know your problems and be there for you,” O’Malley said to his airmen. “And I try to do that, but I can’t. I know that’s not possible. But together we can do that for one another.”
According to the Shaw Air Force Base website, there are 6,576 active duty airmen and civilians stationed there.