02/23/11 — Airman succumbs to injuries

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Airman succumbs to injuries

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on February 23, 2011 1:46 PM

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Cody Hendrickson

For the fifth time since October, members of the 4th Fighter Wing are mourning the loss of one of their own.

And like three of the four Air Force deaths that preceded it, Senior Airman Cody Hendrickson's was allegedly self-inflicted.

The airman, a 23-year-old member of the wing's Component Maintenance Squadron, died Tuesday at Pitt Memorial Hospital after spending several days in critical condition following a shooting in his apartment of Sandhill Drive.

And while Seymour Johnson Air Force Base officials declined to provide additional details about the incident, a narrative from a Wayne County Sheriff's Office investigation report said Hendrickson's supervisor was worried when he did not show up for work Friday -- that when he went to the young airman's apartment to check on him, he found him fighting for his life.

Since the first three incidents -- Senior Airman Ross Merrit Horton was found dead in his Wayne County home Oct. 4, Tech. Sgt. Robert Steven Newlon Jr. died Oct. 10 at his Pikeville residence and Tech Sgt. Joshua Grotke's body was discovered Nov. 29 -- 4th Commander Col. Patrick Doherty has said he and his leadership team are taking a pro-active approach to prevent further tragedies -- that suicide prevention is his top priority for 2011.

The colonel stood the wing down Oct. 12 and created a task force designed to help airmen address their problems.

"The big communication is, 'Listen, we love you. We care about you. You're special. You have a special purpose in life. So what can we do to assist?'" Doherty said Saturday evening. "We'll continue to do that. We are putting 110 percent of our focus and effort on our airmen and our families. Since these tragedies started up in October, we have totally organized a new task force to address some of the challenges that the ops tempo brings and talk about the mental and spiritual health of our Air Force members and families.

"So we are doing everything we possibly can to enable and influence positive life decisions for our airmen and dependents. It's at the forefront of our thoughts every single day."

But while some Seymour Johnson airmen have said that increased deployment cycles and pressures from other demands such as readiness exercises and inspections have taken their toll on Air Force personnel and their families, Doherty has denied that the string of tragedies have anything to do with the stresses of Air Force life.

Air Force officials say all the incidents remain under investigation -- no official acknowledgement of the cause of death in any of them has been issued.

The other death occurred at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, and spokesmen there will only say Tech. Sgt. Les Williams died in a "shooting incident" that was not combat-related.