Fort Hood, one of the nation’s largest Army bases, has an equally huge problem on its hands. Since March of 2020, there have been 13 deaths of enlisted personnel assigned to the sprawling military property (15 for the year to date). Among that group, six have been of Hispanic heritage 26 years of age or younger. This reeks of systemic racism and is unacceptable.
Located in Killeen, Texas about 60 miles out of Waco, Fort Hood has always had a sketchy track record. That can be traced back to November 2009 when Nidal Hasan, a follower of American Muslim extremist Anwar al-Awlaki, killed 13 people and wounded 30 others in a mass shooting spree. Between 2015-2019, the troubled base has averaged 126 violent felonies a year, including homicides, rape, kidnapping and armed robbery. But this latest trend has been particularly disturbing because many cases appear to involve sexual harassment. The following include some of the victims.
Spc. Freddy Benigo Delacruz Jr.
The decorated trooper and Georgia native was one of three people gunned down at a Killeen apartment complex near the base on March 14th. He was a friend of actor Chuck Norris.
Pvt. Gregory Morales
The skeletal remains of Morales, 24, were found in a field near the base on June 24th. Dental records were used to identify Morales, who had been missing for more than a month. It was not clear why the investigation took so long, and no suspects have been arrested.
Pvt. Mejhor Morta
Morta’s body was recovered in Stillhouse Hollow Lake about 15 miles from the base on July 17th. It is presumed that he drowned, but an investigation regarding possible foul play is ongoing.
Pfc. Vanessa Guillen
The most publicized in these string of deaths, Guillen went missing April 22 after her family claimed she was a victim of sexual harassment. But she never reported it to her superiors out of fear of retaliation. She was found on July 1st in a shallow grave near Leon River in a nearby county, her body badly bludgeoned. Her alleged attacker, Pfc. Aaron David Robinson, committed suicide. A native of Houston, Guillen was only 20 years old.
Spc. Francisco Gilberto Hernandez-Vargas
Hernandez-Vargas was killed in a boating accident on August 2nd on the same lake where Morta was found dead. Many call the accident suspicious in nature.
Sgt. Elder Fernandes
The body of Fernandes, 23, was found hanging from a tree in the town of Temple, about 30 miles from the base. Fernandes, like Guillen, had reportedly been a victim of sexual abuse, although the circumstances have not been disclosed. He had been missing since August 19th.
Top Army brass have moved at a snail’s pace in terms of looking into the obvious problems at Fort Hood, preferring to let questionable cases blow away in the Texas wind. But the deaths of Guillen and Fernandes have exposed a toxic culture at this base that has created a loud public outcry, including marches and protests.
“The numbers are high (at Fort Hood), the highest for sexual assault and harassment than any other army installation,” admits Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy. ” As a result, we’ve assembled a five member independent committee to review all base policies and procedures.”
That sounds great for starters, but kudos to Secretary McCarthy for also demanding that interviews be conducted with all types of base personnel, from rank and file enlisted individuals to central command. Major General Scott Efflandt, the current base commander at Fort Hood, was scheduled to be transferred to Fort Bliss near El Paso to take over leadership of the Army’s 1st Armored Division. The move was considered to be a promotion but according to McCarthy, that is now on hold pending the committee’s findings.
How many heads actually roll, if any, remains to be seen. Military investigations take forever and after an initial probe, findings won’t be announced until the end of October. But in a meeting with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, the Guillen family made it clear that they don’t want Vanessa’s horrible death to be in vain.
“I want justice for Vanessa and all the other soldiers who have died there,” pleaded Gloria Guillen, Vanessa’s mother. She also asked the president to support a bill that will end sexual harassment in the military.
“We’ve got the FBI, the DOJ and everyone involved,” assured Trump. “We won’t let this be swept under the rug.”