“The sizable military installation has long come under fire over allegations of coverups and abuse“
The report also pointed to a lack of experience and high turnover within the ranks of the Criminal Investigation Department, leading to problems with launching sufficient investigations.
As it stands, there are more than 1,000 deserters wanted by the U.S. Army and it remains unclear explicitly what is being done to determine their fates. Ten months before Guillen disappeared, Pvt. Gregory Morales also vanished from Fort Hood. His body was unintentionally recovered a few miles from the base in June, during the search for Guillen. He had been listed as AWOL in August 2019 and later as a deserter.
However, for his mother, Kim Wedel, her life in Oklahoma halted as she pleaded for assistance and answers from Fort Hood’s Army Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
“If any other business had this many glaring problems, leadership would be gone. Why did it take an investigation to see that the CID was understaffed and overwhelmed? There was a lack of response from CID, and they certainly didn’t know what to do with me as a mom calling all the time,” Wedel told Fox News.
The Killeen Police Department is heading the investigation into Morales’ death, in which foul play is suspected, according to local reports.
“The Army didn’t care enough to see there was a problem,” Wedel asserted. “I still haven’t really heard from anyone down there. My son will never be at the forefront, and it is shocking how many parents like us are out there. People don’t just disappear because they choose to.”
However, many soldiers and families connected to Fort Hood told Fox News that the personnel changes were merely cosmetic, and they feared “business as usual” when the spotlight faded.
Jennifer Norris, an Air Force veteran and military crime analyst who has focused on Fort Hood issues since 2016, said in order to look forward, one also must look back.
“The deaths ruled a suicide – they need to be investigated. Why did they take their lives? Were those deaths properly investigated? Was it really a suicide, or was it a murder? Everything needs to be questioned,” she added. “We can’t just pretend the last 20 years didn’t happen.”
“Former Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy and the five civilian members of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee unveiled the results of a three-month examination of the command climate and culture at Fort Hood and the surrounding military community on Dec. 8, 2020.”
“The independent review, which was directed by former Secretary McCarthy, arose from the questions and concerns voiced by family members, Congress, and various Hispanic advocacy groups during the investigation into the disappearance and murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillén.”
“The committee examined the command climate and culture at Fort Hood and the surrounding military community to determine whether they reflect the Army’s commitment to safety, respect, inclusiveness, diversity, and freedom from sexual harassment.”
“Committee members Chris Swecker, Jonathan Harmon, Carrie Ricci, Queta Rodriguez and Jack White conducted a two-week fact-finding mission to the Texas base, meeting with unit leaders, Soldiers, members of the Guillén family, local officials, law enforcement and community groups.”
*Submitted to the House Armed Services Committee on September 11, 2020 and received no response
Dear House Armed Services Committee:
I accidentally stumbled upon Fort Hood while conducting research on the non combat deaths of female service members overseas. Fort Hood, along with a few other big Army bases in the U.S., was the common denominator in non combat death overseas. I also learned there are countless numbers of non combat deaths of male service members as well. They shouldn’t have to face death as a way to escape their situation (whether they are a victim of crime and/or it’s a mental health emergency). This issue in and of itself is its own animal and the reason we need policy enacted immediately to create a “bug out” plan for those in danger (or mental health emergencies) in overseas locations, especially if the chain of command fails them. There is no 911 overseas. Why is it the military is not accountable to the American public with the outcome of the investigations of a U.S. service member’s death? They conveniently get to hide behind the non combat death label and because they don’t disclose why or how the service member died in most cases, we are not able to make informed consent as to whether we want to join an organization that appears to hide their misdeeds in an effort to protect the reputation of the institution. I was inspired to look into the other non combat deaths of women overseas after learning the military labeled the obvious rape and murder of LaVena Johnson as a suicide. My research found this isn’t an anomaly, this is a pattern.
After noticing the pattern of the same bases tied to the non combat deaths overseas, I decided to start researching crime in and around the bases in question. Crime knows no boundaries. I took a look at JBLM, Fort Bragg, Fort Hood, Fort Carson, Fort Campbell, JBER, Fort Wainwright, Camp Pendleton, etc. I not only discovered violent crime in and around the bases but I discovered suicide and homicide in garrison were significant issues as well. In late 2016, I noticed a large cluster of deaths at Fort Hood on the heels of learning about all the other violent crime, non combat death and suicide at Fort Hood since 9/11/2001. I was especially upset with the way Fort Hood handled the missing person case of Dakota Stump and how they treated his family. As a result of me taking an interest in the issues at Fort Hood, families of the fallen started contacting me. What I learned collectively was startling. Please keep in mind, each family didn’t know about my conversations with the other families as all this information is considered confidential unless they want to tell their loved ones story on my website: www.militaryjusticeforall.com
As a result of the intel I was getting from families of the fallen at Fort Hood, I decided I was going to start paying closer attention to what was going on at this base. It was by far the most problematic compared to any other base. But please understand Fort Hood is symbolic of the other bases; they all have these same problems. The Army is by far the worst offender concerning death and violent crime in the military. The patterns that emerged from the Fort Hood families included lack of interest in missing persons cases, mislabeling deaths, shoddy death investigations, reports and information from Army leadership that didn’t add up or make sense, evidence goes missing, computer devices and phones are erased, secretiveness, dismissiveness, misleading, and cover-up. When it comes to an untimely or dubious death, it’s hard to find a family who won’t stop fighting for their loved one until justice is served. No justice, no peace. We currently have a group of families at Fort Hood and elsewhere who want to file a class action lawsuit to get the suspicious deaths of their loved ones reopened so they can be investigated properly by independent investigators. The Army did not investigate each death as a homicide until ruled out, therefore the scene was not preserved for evidence collection; they quickly ruled the death a suicide and moved on. According to Stars and Stripes, in the last five years, we’ve lost 165 soldiers at Fort Hood and 70 of those deaths were deaths ruled suicide. I have not included all cases because a lot of families have not come forward to share their story publicly because they are heartbroken, traumatized, confused, and overwhelmed. This experience leaves the families feeling helpless. Even if the death was in fact a suicide, these families want answers, they want the truth, and they want an avenue to find the truth. I was so concerned with the number of deaths stateside at Fort Hood, I went to Washington D.C. in December 2017 to ask for help and it fell on deaf ears including the office of the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Mac Thornberry.
Sgt. Elder Fernandes, 23, whose home of record is listed as Brockton, Mass., was found [deceased] near Lake Polk in Temple. He entered the Army in September 2016 as a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear specialist and has been assigned to the 553rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB), 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division since April 2019. Fernandes’ awards and decorations include the Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and Army Service Ribbon.
Fernandes was last seen in Killeen on Aug 17. When he was reported absent on Aug. 18, Soldiers from his unit initiated a thorough search for him, both on and off post while cooperating with the Killeen Police Department and U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) in an attempt to find him. The unit distributed his photograph, searched motorpools, parking lots, barracks, and headquarters buildings. Members of his unit visited local hotels and hospitals throughout Central Texas trying to find him as they expanded their search efforts.
The unit is cooperating with local authorities from the cities of Killeen and Temple as this incident remains under investigation. The Division will continue to support the Fernandes Family during this difficult time and requests everyone respects their privacy during this time of grief.
Massachusetts lawmakers write “evidence suggests that the Army failed to give him the proper support and care that he needed while serving at Fort Hood” Massachusetts (September 4, 2020) – U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Congressman Stephen F. Lynch (MA-01) today called on the independent review panel investigating the command climate and culture at U.S. Army Base Fort Hood, Texas to include the case of Army Sergeant Elder Fernandes in its review of the base. Sergeant Fernandes, a 23 year-old native of Brockton, Massachusetts who was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, was found dead on August 25 after having gone missing on August 17. Shortly after he was reported missing, public reports revealed that in May of this year Sergeant Fernandes had reported a sexual assault allegation against a member of his chain of command and also became the target of bullying, hazing, and harassment. The Fort Hood independent review panel was created before Sgt. Fernandes’s disappearance, so the Massachusetts lawmakers are asking the panel to ensure it includes his case in the scope of their review and report.
In their letter, the lawmakers urged the Fort Hood panel to review the following issues:
The circumstances surrounding Sergeant Fernandes’s treatment by commanding officers and peers while serving at Fort Hood, including allegations of sexual assault, bullying, hazing, or harassment;
The adequacy of the investigation conducted by the Army of his reported sexual assault;
The circumstances surrounding his disappearance and death, including the Army’s coordination with local and state law enforcement in the search for him after he was reported missing, and;
The adequacy of Army’s coordination with and treatment of Sergeant Fernandes’s family, including but not limited to information-sharing during the search for Sergeant Fernandes and in the period after his body was discovered, and the release of his medical, service, and treatment records thereafter.
“Although an Army-led investigation remains ongoing into the cause and circumstances of Sergeant Fernandes’s death, the evidence suggests that the Army failed to give him the proper support and care that he needed while serving at Fort Hood,” write the lawmakers in the their letter. “As you conduct your independent, comprehensive review of Fort Hood, we urge you to consider the facts of Sergeant Fernandes’s case. We will do everything we can to ensure that Sergeant Fernandes receives the justice he deserves, that Army leaders are held accountable, and to prevent harm to any other soldiers at Fort Hood. We stand by, ready to assist in your review in any way possible, and we look forward to seeing your final report.”
Senators Warren and Markey along with Senator John Cornyn (R-Tex.) today sent a bipartisan request to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Ok.) and Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) asking that the Committee hold a public hearing to probe the findings and recommendations of the independent review panel on the command climate and culture at U.S. Army Base Fort Hood, Texas.
“In the last five years, 165 soldiers assigned to Fort Hood have died, according to the Fort Hood Public Affairs Office, which regularly released information on soldiers’ death until a 2018 decision to stop the practice. The post was an outlier in this level of transparency.
In those years, seven soldiers died by homicide, while six died in a combat zone. The deaths of 70 soldiers were ruled suicides, and on- and off-base accidents resulted in the deaths of 60 soldiers.”
“Air Force veteran Jennifer Norris believes Fort Hood’s current situation has been years in the making.
For the past decade, Norris, a trained social worker with a master’s degree in public policy, has been tracking crimes committed by and against service members and advocating for reform. She posts her research on her website, Military Justice for All.
She first focused her research on several large military bases, but after noticing a trend of Fort Hood deaths, Norris narrowed her efforts to the Texas post.
‘I didn’t set up to go after Fort Hood at all. It’s a compilation of systematic issues,’ she said.
At the end of 2017, Norris used her own money to travel from her home in Maine to Washington to meet with lawmakers. By the time she got home, Norris said she thought everyone had moved on without intending to address the problems.
‘The other bases are nothing like Fort Hood is right now,’ she said. ‘I think the anomaly with Fort Hood is that its isolated and that it’s such an economic powerhouse in the community that it’s in everybody’s best interest to protect it so they can protect themselves.’”
“It took nine months for the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to dismiss a doctor who shouted “[the patient] can go shoot [themself], I do not care” at a suicidal veteran who shot himself dead six days later, according to a new report from the VA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). In 2019, a veteran in their 60s, accompanied with a family member, visited the emergency room at the Washington DC VA Medical Center to complain of withdrawals from alprazolam (Xanax) and oxycodone as well as insomnia. The patient was hoping to be admitted to safely detoxify and get help, according to the report.”
“Lavena Johnson was a smart, witty woman, born and raised in Missouri. Her senior year of high school she decided she would join the Army in an effort to not burden her parents with out of state tuition for college. Although Dr. Johnson (Lavena’s dad), begged her not to join the Army – she did so anyway. She thought the Army was a good deal – you serve your country a few years and then you get 4 years of college paid! Recruiters promised her she would likely not deploy, even though in 2004 there was an uptick in deployed troops.”
Listen to Ep 40: Did Lavena Johnson commit suicide? on the Military Murder Podcasthere.
“U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and I recently announced that we will offer the bipartisan Military Justice Improvement Act as an amendment to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. The Military Justice Improvement Act would professionalize how the military prosecutes serious crimes by moving the decision over whether to prosecute them to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors.
Despite years of Congressional reforms, thousands of service members are raped and sexually assaulted every year. In many of those cases, the assailant is someone in the survivor’s own chain of command. Only a small fraction of the perpetrators are ever held accountable for their violent crimes. Last year, the Department of Defense announced a record number of sexual assaults reported by or against service members, and yet, less than 10 percent of cases considered for command action ever proceeded to trial. Worse yet, despite repeated efforts to stamp out the scourge of retaliation against military sexual assault survivors, the most recent Pentagon survey found that 64 percent of survivors say they have experienced some form of retaliation for reporting the crime. That figure is statistically unchanged from 2016.”