Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the fact that two of the soldiers’ deaths occurred on Hunter Army Airfield. The Current originally reported that all three deaths occurred there.
Three soldiers from the elite 75th Ranger Regiment based at Hunter Army Airfield have died between July 31 and Oct. 6 in questionable circumstances, with at least two of the deaths attributable as suicides, according to two military officials with knowledge of the situation.
A U.S. Army Special Operations Command spokesman would not release details of the deaths, saying they are still under investigation.
The three soldiers were between 21-26 years old, according to a statement from the Special Operations Command, and had completed the intense screening and selection process necessary to become part of the 75th Rangers, one of the Army’s premier fighting forces.
“Each of these Soldiers were valued members of our team and they will be greatly missed,” the spokesperson said in a statement to The Current. “We are thoroughly investigating each incident in the hopes of preventing similar incidents in the future.”
Spc. Charles Brucker Tafel, a 26-year-old Rifleman, committed suicide on July 31, while Spc. Michael James Avila killed himself on Oct. 2, a day after his 21st birthday, according to a military official familiar with the situation.
Spc. William Borgersen, 21, died on Oct. 6 in “a tragic shooting accident,” according to an online obituary for the Westwood, N.J. native. The circumstances surrounding Borgersen’s death are unclear, according to a military official.
Two deaths occurred at Hunter Army Airfield, the official said.
Rising suicide rates in the U.S. military have become a major concern for Pentagon leaders, as well as families and parents of servicemen and women.
Officially, Army and Marine Corps officials have reported 72 suicides among service members so far in 2022. That’s down more than 10% from the same time in 2021.
However, more than 3,400 active-duty and reserve troops have died from suicide since the start of 2015. For comparison, fewer than 2,500 service members were killed in 20 years of combat operations in Afghanistan.
Military suicide rates are four times higher than deaths that historically have occurred during military operations, a troubling statistic for military families and parents, according to the USO, or United Service Organizations. USO is a nonprofit, charitable corporation chartered by Congress that relies on donations for its programs aimed at active-duty military and veterans.
Spc. Tafel was born in Louisville, Kentucky and a graduate of Auburn University, where he was a member of Sigma Pi Fraternity. He was assigned to B Company, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment on Dec. 20, 2019, where he served as a Rifleman, Automatic Rifleman, Radio Telephone Operator, and Machine Gun Team Leader.
He had deployed overseas twice, once to Afghanistan, in support of U.S. operations abroad.
According to his obituary, he “loved spending time in nature and the outdoors, snow skiing and hiking,” He was also a regular at the Chatham County Aquatic Center. During college, he spent summers as a camp counselor in North Carolina.
Spc. Avila, who is from Wasco, California, was also assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, and served as a grenadier and rifleman.
Spc. Borgersen joined the Army in March 2021 before being selected for the Rangers and completing his Basic Airborne Course at Fort Benning. He was an ammunition bearer for Company C, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
“Affectionately known by friends and family as Willy,” his obituary said. “He was a kind, thoughtful, sweet, and happy soul who touched hundreds of lives throughout his twenty-one short but meaningful years here on earth.”
Troops, veterans and family members facing a mental health crisis can call 988 or 1-800-273-8255 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line for around-the-clock emergency help (press 1 after connecting for faster access). Individuals can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for alternate ways to reach counselors.