Gunshot kills Elmendorf wing commander Unclear if Brig. Gen. Tinsley's death an accident or suicide By JULIA O'MALLEY firstname.lastname@example.org (07/29/08 00:02:41) The commander of the 3rd Wing at Elmendorf Air Force Base died of what is believed to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound Sunday night, Air Force Col. Richard Walberg said Monday. Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Tinsley, 45, appears to have shot himself in the chest with a handgun in his base house, Walberg said. It was unclear whether the shot was an accident or a suicide. He did not leave a note, Walberg said. His wife and daughter were home at the time. Walberg will assume Tinsley's position. He appeared at a Monday afternoon press conference in his dress uniform, looking tired. He worked under Tinsley and was his neighbor, he said. His phone rang just after 10 p.m. Sunday, waking him up. "The individual on the end of the line was fairly agitated and said, 'There's a report of a gunshot at Gen. Tinsley's house and people are screaming,' " Walberg said during the press conference. Walberg and his wife ran across the street and found Tinsley on the lower level of his house with his wife and daughter. Another neighbor, Col. Eli Powell, a doctor, was already there, working to resuscitate him. Tinsley was pronounced dead at about 10:30 p.m. A team of military pathologists is flying in from the Lower 48 to determine how Tinsley died, Walberg said. There is no evidence of any foul play. There was no disturbance at the home before the gunshot. No one had any indication that he was in any emotional distress, he said. "This job, by nature of being an Air Force officer in a nation at war, is stressful," he said. "Undue stress? No, I can't say there was any undue stress." Tinsley is survived by his wife, a college-age daughter and a teenage nephew he was helping to raise. He served as wing commander since May 2007, overseeing nearly 7,000 people on base. Monday morning his colleagues were shocked and stricken, said Kelley Jeter, a public affairs officer who worked regularly with the general. "We're all trying to cope over here," she said. "We're trying to do our best to comfort the family and comfort one another." Charismatic and well-liked, Tinsley was visible in Anchorage, appearing frequently in the news. He helped oversee the transport of Maggie, the Alaska Zoo's elephant, to California last year. He was also working to secure funding for hangars so people servicing aircraft on base could work inside in the winter, Jeter said. "He knew everyone's name. The lowest-ranking airmen that worked around him, he knew their names, he knew the names of their kids, he knew who they were married to," she said. "I loved putting him in front of a crowd." Tinsley had a reputation as a passionate advocate for the military. He oversaw the Elmendorf hospital and psychiatric care facilities that serve all military forces in Alaska, and he made mental and health treatment for returning veterans a priority. In November, he and Mayor Mark Begich hosted a public luncheon for Anchorage mental health professionals, urging them to join forces with military doctors to provide psychiatric care for more than 4,000 soldiers and airmen returning from combat duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. "Remember, this is much larger than just the soldiers and airmen returning," Tinsley said at the time. "This is also their families. And the families may not be able to get the care they need on base and need to get it downtown." The Elmendorf hospital was running at capacity, Tinsley said. Dozens of military medics and psychiatric care specialists were scheduled to arrive in 2008 to assist with the caseload. "This is not an issue because we're not going to let it become an issue," he said. "We're going to get out ahead of it." Begich got word of Tinsley's death early Monday. He and his wife, Deborah Bonito, worked closely with Tinsley and his wife, and entertained the couple at the mayor's home. "He was one of those kind of dynamic leaders that in my view had an incredible future," Begich said. "He was someone who connected with people very easily." Tinsley's Air Force biography says he was a command pilot with more than 3,200 flight hours in F-15, F/A-18 and F-22A fighter jets. He previously commanded Elmendorf's 12th Fighter Squadron and the 1st Operations Group at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. Prior to his Alaska assignment, he was executive officer to the chief of staff of the Air Force. He was commissioned in 1984 through the ROTC program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona. He was an F-15 instructor pilot, F-15C test pilot, wing weapons officer, exchange officer and instructor with the Royal Australian Air Force. He also had served in the Directorate for Plans and Policy on the Joint Staff and was executive assistant to the Deputy for Political-Military Affairs for Asia Pacific and the Middle East. All flags on base were flown at half staff and flight missions were canceled on Monday in Tinsley's honor. Memorial services have not yet been planned. http://www.adn.com/military/story/478085.html That was my old wing when I was there.