Air Force commander dies of self-inflicted gunshot wound

Photo/Senior Airman Jonathan Steffen/Courtesy of the 3rd Wing, Elmendorf Air Force Base
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Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Tinsley, commander of the 3rd Wing on Elmendorf Air Force Base, stands on the tarmac. Tinsley died July 27 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. A memorial service was scheduled for July 31.
Photo/Senior Airman Jonathan Steffen/Courtesy of the 3rd Wing, Elmendorf Air Force Base
   
Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Tinsley, commander of the 3rd Wing on Elmendorf Air Force Base, died July 27 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest, said Air Force Col. Richard Walberg. Officials did not say if the shooting was accidental or suicide.

“The entire 3rd Wing is mourning his passing,” Walberg said.

Tinsley, 45, shot himself at about 10 p.m. at his home on the base, Walberg said. It is believed that Tinsley shot himself with a handgun.

His wife and college-age daughter were home at the time.

Walberg, who lives across the street from the Tinsleys, got a call a few minutes later from the command post. He was told a gun had been fired at Tinsley’s home. He and his wife had just gone to bed when the phone rang. He ran out the door with his wife behind him.

Col. Eli Powell, an orthopedic surgeon who lives on the same street, was called to the scene as well and tried to resuscitate Tinsley. Tinsley was declared dead at 10:30 p.m.

Walberg, who is now the 3rd Wing’s commander, said he called a staff meeting at 12:30 a.m. Monday to notify squadron leaders. They called their units to tell fellow airmen the news. A mass was held on base for staff July 28.

The shooting is under investigation. A team from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, which is based in Bethesda, Md., arrived this week. The results of the investigation probably won’t be available for another month, Walberg said.

Walberg was hesitant to give specific details about the death because he wanted investigators to make their own conclusions.

He was not aware of a suicide note and there were no calls for a disturbance at the home prior to the shooting. Tinsley was not part of any professional investigation.

Tinsley had been head of the 3rd Wing since May 2007. He came to Alaska from Washington, D.C., where he served as executive officer to the chief of staff at the national headquarters.

“Brig. Gen. Tinsley’s best accomplishment in the 15 months he was here was his absolute love, and I mean love with a capital L, for his airmen,” Walberg said. “His first thought in the morning and his last thought at night were about his professional family; how can I better take care of these airmen who are being sent in harm’s way.”

Tinsley came into the Air Force in 1984 through the ROTC program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in air transportation management. He later got his master’s degree in national security and strategic command.

Tinsley, call sign “Pugs,” was a fighter pilot, a F-15 instructor pilot, F-15C test pilot, wing weapons officer, exchange officer and instructor for the Royal Australian Air Force. He first came to Alaska in 2000 and left in 2003 for an assignment in Scottsdale, Ariz.

He had also received several awards and decorations including the Air Force Commendation Medial with an oak leaf cluster and Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.

Tinsley leaves behind his wife, daughter and 15-year-old nephew, who he and Mrs. Tinsley were raising.

Jill Fankhauser can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
08/02/2008 - 8:00pm

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