Sergey Podlesnykh/Staff Writer
On July 17, yet another soldier’s body was found near Fort Hood, TX, also known as “The Great Place.” This is in addition to this year’s seven non-combat deaths in Ft. Hood. As the death toll rises and mourning families beg for answers, more people are starting to question if the Army is doing enough to investigate these cases.
On Thursday, July 30, the Army named a five-person civilian panel to evaluate “the command climate and culture at Fort Hood,” following the President’s meeting with the family of Vanessa Guillen. During the conversation, the President said the killing would be investigated “very powerfully.” A promising start, but a “very powerful” investigation of such alarming cases shouldn’t take a meeting with the President.
I spent three years in Ft. Hood and am personally familiar with its “command climate and culture” (or lack thereof). The leadership shows little regard for the lower ranks which results in angry and frustrated soldiers, therefore increasing reports of suicides and unexplained homicidal violence between comrades.
Unfortunately, Vanessa Guillen is only one victim of this broken system. Gregory Morales, whose remains were discovered while officials were searching for Guillen, was missing since last August—almost a year.
Shortly after Morales went missing, the Army labeled him as a deserter and swept the case under the rug. I get it, we don’t like deserters and soldiers who get captured, so their disappearances are not subject to “very powerful” investigations. This is a clear red flag suggesting how broken and corrupt the system is.
The list of casualties goes on. Gag orders, unexplained disappearances and questionable training accidents become the norm. In 2016 a training accident took the lives of nine soldiers. Instead of getting to the bottom of the issue, the Army tried to pin the responsibility on a Staff Sergeant who died in the accident.
Training accidents are conveniently utilized to cover up the gruesome realities of Ft. Hood. However, what is occurring on the base is hardly an “accident.” When a chain of similar “accidents” is consistently taking place, that is a pattern of poor leadership, bad planning and negligence.
In September of 2019, my battalion lost a soldier in a maintenance accident, which was written off as his own neglect of safety procedures. Instead of examining the unit’s safety procedures and their adequate implementation, the lower-ranking soldier was conveniently found responsible for his own death. Much needed “very powerful” investigation could have explained why the accident occurred and what could prevent similar accidents in the future.
The “ongoing investigation” card is played all the time and while I understand the process for the proper execution of an investigation, it seems that in every instance the Army simply waits for the novelty to subside in the hopes all is forgotten.
A similar scenario happened when I buried a friend in November of 2018 and received little to no details regarding his death from the investigative team, leaving his friends and family to wonder in silence.
This January, I was in a vehicle accident myself. Fortunately, no one was hurt. My unit had little interest in looking into the accident’s details. The dangerous pattern of poor planning, lack of communication and negligence remained unchecked. It could cause deaths in the future, as the Army continuously fails to be proactive and look into the existing issues.
Then there was the triple homicide off-post in March 2020. Almost five months later, little to no information was released due to the “very powerful” ongoing investigation. But the soldiers’ involvement suggests there are deeper issues in Ft. Hood, and the off-post location confirms the unspoken truth known to many locals: Ft. Hood is not safe.
The alarming number of unexplained deaths in Ft. Hood is neither unique nor new. We simply started paying attention to what’s happening in “The Great Place” recently, largely due to the Guillen family’s untiring persistence.
The units in Ft. Hood are quick to turn a blind eye to the uncomfortable truth and fail to report the occurring atrocities. This creates a dangerous environment of impunity, promoting cases of sexual harassment and unexplained disappearances.
As a result, highly praised military esprit de corps is mutating into mutual cover-ups. Internal investigations fail to provide any details, and the mourning families don’t get any answers. What is going on? How many more sons and daughters need to die at their home station for our leaders to notice and take action?
The dogs have been barking for a long time, but the caravan still moves on. It is high time the government “very powerfully” investigated Ft. Hood and the underlying reasons for its multiple non-combat deaths. Soldiers, dedicating their lives to this country, deserve to feel safe at their home station. Until they do, “The Great Place” looks more like “The Great Disappointment.”
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