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Elmendorf general dies of gunshot on base

The commander of the 3rd Wing at Elmendorf Air Force Base died of what is being described as a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest at his on-base home Sunday night, the Air Force said this afternoon.

The Air Force is investigating and can't say whether the shot that killed Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Tinsley was accidental or a suicide, Col. Richard Walberg said in a press conference.

Tinsley did not leave a suicide note.

Tinsley was declared dead around 10:30 p.m., according to a statement issued by the Air Force early this morning.

Elmendorf medical authorities responded, the statement says.

There was no indication of homicide, Lt. Col. Michael Paoli, an Air Force spokesman in Washington, D.C., told The Associated Press.

Tinsley served as wing commander since May 2007, overseeing nearly 7,000 people. This morning his colleagues were shocked and sad, said Kelley Jeter, a public affairs officer who worked regularly with the general.

"We're all trying to cope over here," she said. "We're trying to do our best to comfort the family and comfort one another."

Tinsley was very visible in Anchorage, participating in numerous community organizations and events. He was involved with coordinating health services for returning Iraq veterans. He helped oversee the transport of Maggie, the Alaska Zoo's elephant, to the Lower 48 last year. He was at work trying to secure funding for hangars so people servicing aircraft on base could work inside in the winter.

He was charismatic and well-liked, Jeter said.

"He knew everyone's name. The lowest-ranking airmen that worked around him, he knew their names, he knew the names of their kids, he knew who they were married to," she said.

"I loved putting him in front of a crowd."

He is survived by a wife, a daughter and a nephew.

This morning's statement quoted Col. Richard Walberg, 3rd Wing vice commander: "Elmendorf is focusing on taking care of Mrs. Tinsley and her family right now. We ask that your thoughts and prayers go out to his family as well as his Air Force family who regarded him as a mentor, leader, world-class airman and friend."

Tinsley's Air Force biography says he was a command pilot with more than 3,200 flight hours in F-15, F/A-18 and F-22A fighter jets. He previously commanded Elmendorf's 12th Fighter Squadron and the 1st Operations Group at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.

Prior to his 3rd Wing assignment, he was executive officer to the chief of staff of the Air Force.

He was commissioned in 1984 through the ROTC program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona. His biography says he was an F-15 instructor pilot, F-15C test pilot, wing weapons officer, exchange officer and instructor with the Royal Australian Air Force. He also has served in the Directorate for Plans and Policy on the Joint Staff and was executive assistant to the Deputy for Political-Military Affairs for Asia Pacific and the Middle East.

Elmendorf's 3rd Wing flies F-22A and F-15C fighters, C-17 Globemaster cargo jets, C-12 passenger/cargo planes and E-3 AWACS, and maintains the regional medical facility for all forces in Alaska.