Zachary Melton Obituary, Second Fort Jackson Drill Sergeant Found Dead on Base This Month

The military community at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, is dealing with the devastating loss of a devoted soldier for the second time in less than two weeks. After another tragic story for the first site for basic training, 30-year-old drill sergeant Staff Sgt. Zachary Melton of 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment was discovered dead in his car on the installation on Saturday. This tragic news follows the finding of the corpse of 34-year-old drill sergeant Staff Sgt. Allen Burtram of the 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment on December 8.

The Army has not released the cause of death for either fatality, emphasizing that the two deaths are unrelated, and there is no apparent evidence of foul play, according to Tom Byrd, a spokesperson for the installation. Military chaplains and behavioral health personnel are on hand to provide support to the affected units, recognizing the profound impact these losses have on the soldiers and their families.

Fort Jackson, responsible for graduating approximately 45,000 new trainees each year, has a reputation as a demanding training ground, and the role of a drill sergeant is widely regarded as one of the most challenging assignments in the Army. Drill sergeants like Melton and Burtram work long hours, often separated from their families for extended periods, and endure sleep deprivation as they mold recruits into capable soldiers. While the workload is intense, the position is also seen as prestigious within the military, offering career advancement opportunities.

The strenuous nature of the job, however, takes a toll on the physical and mental well-being of drill sergeants. Reports from the military community suggest that exercise and family life become challenging to balance, contributing to the myriad issues faced by these noncommissioned officers. In response to these challenges, Fort Jackson has invested resources in the health and well-being of drill sergeants. The installation boasts a high-end fitness facility equipped with elements reminiscent of a CrossFit gym, cold plunge tubs, a yoga studio, and wrestling mats for jiu-jitsu training.

A groundbreaking study conducted by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in 2021 shed light on the mental health struggles experienced by drill sergeants. Surveying 856 drill sergeants, the study revealed that 19% suffered from depression, 27% exhibited symptoms of moderate to severe insomnia, and 35% reported alcohol abuse. The demanding workday of a drill sergeant, averaging nearly 15 hours, coupled with an average of 6.4 workdays per week, creates an intensity level described as “extreme, even within the Army.”

The Marine Corps conducted a similar internal study in 2019, uncovering alarming statistics. It found that 55% of drill sergeants received a mental health diagnosis at some point in their careers, with a significant portion of these diagnoses occurring during or after their assignment. Additionally, Marine drill instructors were three times more likely to experience divorce compared to their counterparts who never served in a special duty assignment.

These studies underscore the need for increased attention to the mental health and well-being of drill sergeants, who play a pivotal role in shaping the next generation of military personnel. The inherent challenges of the job, combined with the unique stressors of military life, demand a comprehensive approach to support these dedicated individuals.

As Fort Jackson mourns the loss of Staff Sgt. Zachary Melton, the broader military community is reminded of the sacrifices made by those who bear the responsibility of training the nation’s defenders. The focus on mental health resources and support systems for drill sergeants must remain a priority to ensure the well-being of those who serve and protect. Active-duty troops, veterans, and family members facing similar challenges are urged to seek assistance through the Military Crisis Line/Veterans Crisis Line at 988, veteranscrisisline.net, or by texting 838255. In doing so, we honor the memory of those who have dedicated their lives to the service of our country.