THE NEUTRAL ZONE
A congressional delegation traveled to Army base Fort Hood in Texas last weekend to investigate an unusual amount of deaths and disappearances occurring on base. The delegation discovered what they report to be a “toxic culture of fear, intimidation, harassment and indifference.” There have been 28 deaths on the base in 2020 and nearly 150 cases of suicides, homicides and disappearances in the last five years. After visiting the base, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) stated, “There was a lack of seriousness, a lack of attention, a lack of focus.” The representatives also saw what they described as grim living conditions, with base housing filled with roaches and rodents as well as a culture that does not hold soldiers accountable for bad behavior or criminal actions.
Pfc. Vanessa Guillén, a Fort Hood soldier, was allegedly killed by another soldier shortly after telling family members she was being sexually harassed. The soldier suspected of Guillén’s death committed suicide as police approached him for questioning after it was reported that some of her remains had been found. Guillén’s case created an outcry for systemic reform in the way the Armed Forces handle sexual assault and harassment cases, as well as the creation of the hashtag “#IAmVanessaGuillén” which encouraged other service members to come forward and share their experiences with sexual assault in the military. The “I Am Vanessa Guillén” bill is set to receive a vote on the House floor. Her family met with President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to discuss these reforms.
This congressional visit comes after the remains of Sgt. Elder Fernandes were discovered following his disappearance from the base after reporting sexual abuse. Fernandes’ death was ruled a suicide and no foul play was suspected. He was discovered hanging from a tree off base a day before the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division deemed his claims of abuse unsubstantiated. Fernandes’ family’s attorney Leonard Kesten stated, “There was very little if any investigation as to what happened to him.” Rep. Lynch and the Massachusetts delegation are calling for an independent Department of Defense investigation into Fernandes’ death.
Lawmakers who toured Fort Hood found a ‘toxic culture of fear, intimidation, harassment and indifference’ – Task & Purpose – 9/24/2020
“The Army is a learning organization. When they have a problem, you know it. They respond robustly. There’s an urgency. There’s a well-defined issue and they get right at it,” Lynch said Wednesday during a virtual news conference. “I did not see any of that in my first visit to Fort Hood. There was a lack of seriousness, a lack of attention, a lack of focus. Some of the officers, at the very top, were casual about what was going on there.”
Final autopsy: Fort Hood soldier’s drowning was an accident – The Associated Press – 9/21/2020
Morta is one of 28 soldiers who have died at Fort Hood this year, according to data from Fort Hood officials. The 28 deaths include five homicides, plus accidents, suicides, deaths from illness, cases still under investigation and one combat-related death. Fort Hood has one of the highest rates of murder, sexual assault and harassment in the Army, Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy said in August.
Massachusetts representatives recount dismaying Fort Hood visit – The Boston Globe – 9/24/2020
“I was ashamed,” Pressley said. “We heard from military spouses who have suffered multiple miscarriages, who are plagued by aggressive asthma and other respiratory ailments, who are living in substandard housing that we know that we have failed to invest in. I think we need to really evaluate our defense spending, our priorities, and we have got to end these endless wars. And that’s not my opinion. That was the plea of the many servicemen and women and their spouses who we spent time with.”
I Am Vanessa Guillén Act unveiled to reform how military addresses sexual misconduct – Military Times – 9/16/2020
“I Am Vanessa Guillén has become a rallying cry across the country for survivors speaking out against the toxic rot in the military around harassment and sexual assault,” Speier, a Democrat from California, said during a press conference Wednesday on Capitol Hill. “Sexual assault and harassment that they have endured at the hands of their brothers and sisters in arms.”