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Ceremony will honor Rochester-area native found dead on Alaska Army base

Eric Christopher Adams
Justin Connaher / US Air Force

The world may indeed have felt at an end this week for those who knew and loved a 25-year-old New York state man found dead Christmas morning in the inhospitable depths of a frigid Alaska winter.

Grant W. Wise, a private first class in the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), was found dead by gunshot wound just after 7 a.m. Tuesday, according to Lt. Col. William Coppernoll, a spokesperson for the U.S. Army in Alaska. Wise was found in the dorm-like communal living quarters that young, often-single enlistees call home on any of the Army's far-flung operating bases. At Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, a sprawling and bustling base in the state's largest city, Wise had been assigned to the renowned paratrooper brigade only recently returned to JBER from a tour in Afghanistan.

His death came in the midst of a winter mostly too cold for snow, during the darkest and most vulnerable time of the year in the Far North.

Wise hailed from the Erie Canal region of western New York. Coppernoll said Wise's paperwork indicated he'd grown up in Fairport, a small suburb of 5,000 near Rochester. He'd only been in Alaska for about three months, landing at JBER in September, according to a statement from U.S. Army in Alaska officials. Prior to his assignment with JBER's 25th Infantry Division, Wise had spent the better part of a year training at Army bases far from the Arctic. He began basic military training in September 2011 in sultry Georgia, at Fort Benning. From there he'd been sent to Fort Bragg, N.C., where Coppernoll said he'd probably continued career training and development.

A single bullet, discharged in the barracks of another JBER soldier who's not been identified or implicated, ended the soldier's life. At 7:45 a.m., the time authorities declared him dead, the Alaska sky was still pitch dark. Winter nights are relentless at this time of year in Alaska, darkness consuming the rugged beauty of mountains and bays that wrap around Anchorage. 

U.S. Army in Alaska officials weren't forthcoming about the details surrounding Wise's death. Coppernoll offered a terse "no comment" in response to the hows and whys and whos -- what role if any the other soldier had played in Pfc. Wise's death. Who wielded the deadly weapon. Whether foul play was a consideration. If Wise had died suspiciously. Was his death self-inflicted.

Army criminal investigators are recreating the scene at which Wise died. A cermony to honor the soldier's life will be announced at a later date, Coppernoll said.

Contact Eric Christopher Adams at eric(at)alaskadispatch.com