US Airman Dies During Deployment to Niger

Tents at Nigerien Air Base 101, in Niger.
Heating ventilation and air conditioning units operate behind tents at Nigerien Air Base 101, Niger, April 3, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jimmie D. Pike)

A 27-year-old airman from Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, died last week in a "non-combat" incident during his deployment to Africa, according to the Department of Defense.

Staff Sgt. Dennis F. Melton, of Waverly, Tennessee, was stationed at Nigerien Air Base 101 in Niamey, Niger, with the 768th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron. The airman was based out of the 20th Fighter Wing from Sumter, South Carolina.

"Non-combat incidents" are a label used by the DoD when a service member dies during training or from fatal accidents, illness or suicide.

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The 20th Fighter Wing did not immediately respond when asked about the cause of Melton's death; the Department of Defense said the incident is "under investigation."

News of Melton's death received an outpouring of support on social media. Col. Bryan T. Callahan, commander of the 435th Air Expeditionary Wing, said he was heartbroken about the news.

"The death of SSgt Melton is met with deep sadness throughout the wing," Callahan wrote on the 435th's Facebook page. "This is a difficult time for all, please reach out for help as you need it. It's okay to not be okay.

"There is strength in knowing when to take a knee and reach out to your teammates," he added.

The U.S. has two major military locations in Niger: Air Base 101 in Niamey and Air Base 201 in Agadez.

The most recent non-combat death in the region was when Army Pfc. Walter Lewark died at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, in 2020. The Army did not release specifics on Lewark's death.

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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