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Posted: 11/7/2008 2:39:28 PM EDT
General’s death in July ruled a suicide

Investigators say they can find no motive
By Erik Holmes - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Nov 7, 2008 12:42:20 EST
The July 27 death of Brig. Gen. Thomas Tinsley by self-inflicted gunshot wound seems likely to remain shrouded in mystery.

A three-month Air Force Office of Special Investigations inquiry, which concluded in early November, determined that Tinsley intentionally shot himself once in the chest with a large-caliber handgun, but investigators were unable to turn up a motive.

Investigators found no suicide note, history of mental illness or evidence of financial or criminal trouble that might lead someone to take his own life.

“Often with a suicide, you have a pretty good idea” of motive, said an Air Force official familiar with the case. “This investigation did not yield that. ... There wasn’t anything definite that provided the ‘why.’ ”

Tinsley was commander of the 3rd Wing at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, when he was found dead in the basement of his home on base.

An autopsy and toxicology report found alcohol in Tinsley’s blood, according to an Air Force official, but investigators were not able to determine whether the alcohol was a contributing factor to his death. The Air Force declined to release the specific blood-alcohol content.

No other substances were found in Tinsley’s body, according to a press release from Pacific Air Forces.

Investigators determined the cause of death was one gunshot wound to the chest with Tinsley’s personal weapon — a Smith & Wesson Model 500 .50-caliber revolver, which the manufacturer touts as the world’s most powerful revolver. The five-chamber weapon, found with Tinsley’s body, contained one spent shell casing and four empty chambers.

The new wing commander, Col. Tom Bergeson, held commanders’ calls on base Nov. 6 to explain the investigation’s findings to his airmen.

Tinsley, who served 24 years, was seen as one of the rising stars of the Air Force. The F-22 pilot was promoted below the zone multiple times, had served for 22 months as then-Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley’s handpicked executive officer, and had a plum assignment as commander of the 3rd Wing.

Those who knew him well would not have been surprised to see him become a three- or four-star general.

“He had that much potential,” Brig. Gen. Walter Givhan, director of the Air Force’s Executive Action Group at the Pentagon, told Air Force Times in July. “He had the talent and intelligence and the energy that you need as a leader to succeed.”

Givhan, who taught Tinsley to fly in 1984 at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., said it was immediately clear to him that Tinsley — call sign, Pugs — was something special.

“He established his reputation for devotion to excellence early,” Givhan said. “He was a great pilot, a great stick, just a natural. He’s one of those guys that, as an instructor pilot, is especially fun to fly with because you can kind of get beyond just the basics and quickly challenge him.”

But despite that dazzling success, Tinsley also was known as an airman’s general — devoted to the well-being of those who served under him. Affection for Tinsley extended to the most junior ranks at Elmendorf, said Airman 1st Class Richard Hernandez, who worked on Tinsley’s staff.

“They never felt like he was the commander of the base,” Hernandez said in July. “He never made people feel like he was the big guy. He made them feel comfortable around him. ... He was just an easy-going guy.”

The esteem in which Tinsley was held made his death all the more shocking.

Tinsley’s college-age daughter, Eden, called the command post between 10:15 and 10:20 p.m. July 27 to report that Tinsley had been found in the basement of the family’s home with a gunshot wound.

The dispatcher immediately called Col. Eli Powell, the 3rd Medical Group commander and an orthopedic surgeon. He ran from his house to the general’s home, just a couple of houses away, and was the first to arrive on the scene.

Col. Richard Walberg, the deputy wing commander, arrived at Tinsley’s house a minute or two after Powell.

Medical responders, emergency personnel and security forces airmen arrived shortly after Walberg.

Powell’s efforts to resuscitate Tinsley failed, and the 46-year-old general was declared dead at his home about 10:30 p.m. His body was taken to the base hospital.

Moseley, visibly shaken, spoke at Tinsley’s memorial service at Elmendorf. Tinsley was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Air Force officials hoped the investigation would help Tinsley’s family, friends and fellow airmen understand why he killed himself, but that now appears unlikely.

“One of the many tragic aspects of this event is that we are unlikely to ever fully understand his actions that evening,” Pacific Air Forces commander Gen. Howie Chandler said.
Link Posted: 11/7/2008 2:43:36 PM EDT
Wow, sad story.  What a gifted and lucky person, only to throw it all away by taking his life.

Link Posted: 11/7/2008 2:56:53 PM EDT
Damn, that's messed up, I wonder what drove him to kill himself?
Link Posted: 11/7/2008 3:02:24 PM EDT
Maybe he knew the military was going to be gutted if there was an Obama victory.
Link Posted: 11/7/2008 3:04:48 PM EDT
My wife knew him.  She worked at the Youth Center (after school program) at Elmendorf AFB when I was stationed there, and he took a specific interest in the kids on base.  He was a good base Commander.

Link Posted: 11/7/2008 3:06:49 PM EDT
Originally Posted By jt325i:
Maybe he knew the military was going to be gutted if there was an Obama victory.

Yeah, he saw it coming in July. Way to bring politics into a tragedy, dipshit.
Link Posted: 11/7/2008 3:10:45 PM EDT
Was he under investigation?
Link Posted: 11/7/2008 4:43:31 PM EDT
You never really know why people do things like this.  Our old wind commander was selected for promotion to BG, some tramp TSgt tried to blackmail him for a couple of free promotions.  It seems that a decade before on a TDY he had taken her for a toss around the bed.  

Sadly, the statute of limitations on screwing a tramp never expires and she was set to go public.  He refused to submit and she went to the local news first.  Here was a guy with a 26 year marriage and nearly 30 year career going into the toilet because of one mistake.

He went home and shot himself in his yard.  The thought of seeing his marriage to his college sweetheart and his stellar career being reduced to rubble for a mistake with a tramp drove him to do something terrible.

I'm sure we will never know the story.
Link Posted: 11/7/2008 4:59:04 PM EDT
Originally Posted By jt325i:
Maybe he knew the military was going to be gutted if there was an Obama victory.

There's always one.
Link Posted: 11/7/2008 5:01:14 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 11/7/2008 5:01:27 PM EDT by KA3B]
Like the El Toro Marine Col who offed himself because of an alleged ghey affair.  
Link Posted: 11/7/2008 5:02:16 PM EDT
I had a feeling that's what it was.

Say goodbye to the $400,000 for the family...
Link Posted: 11/7/2008 5:02:59 PM EDT
Originally Posted By SV650Squid:
My wife knew him.  She worked at the Youth Center (after school program) at Elmendorf AFB when I was stationed there, and he took a specific interest in the kids on base.  He was a good base Commander.

He was the BEST base Commander that I ever had the honor to work for.
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