“Leave No Soldier Behind”: The Unsolved Mystery of the Soldier Who Died in the Watchtower | Vanity Fair (January 8, 2019)

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Matthew Warren Brown, U.S. Army (via Vanity Fair Facebook)

Is the Army botching its investigations into noncombatant deaths?

I. The Gun Tower

“On the morning of May 11, 2008, a U.S. Army private second class named Matthew Warren Brown died of a single gunshot wound to the head while manning a watchtower at a forward operating base in Afghanistan. Brown was 20 years old. He was a skinny, all-American kid, a bit aimless but affable and unassuming. He was a good guy. You could see it in his face. At his funeral back home in Pennsylvania, some 200 people showed up. In the aftermath of Brown’s death, army investigators created files about the circumstances. The bullet that killed him was fired from his own weapon, an M4 carbine. He was working the six A.M. shift, alone in the watchtower by the fortified main gate to the base. The tower was known as the Gun Tower. It was made of concrete, and looked medieval when viewed from the outside. It was three stories tall. On the second and third floors it had openings covered with two-piece Plexiglas windows, some of which had broken off and been left lying in shards on the floors.” Read more from Vanity Fair here.

Related Links:
Pvt Matthew Warren Brown | Find A Grave
DoD Identifies Army Casualty: Pvt. Matthew W. Brown
Army Pvt. Matthew W. Brown | Honor the Fallen
Fort Bragg Soldier dies in Afghanistan
Soldier from Fort Bragg dies in Afghanistan
Fort Bragg soldier dies from injuries in Afghanistan
Zelienople soldier killed in Afghanistan, father says
Soldier from Zelienople killed in Afghanistan
Zelienople soldier who died in Afghanistan buried today
“Leave No Soldier Behind”: The Unsolved Mystery of the Soldier Who Died in the Watchtower | Vanity Fair
Family of soldier found dead in Afghanistan in 2008 says he did not commit suicide as claimed
Family of soldier who was found dead in Afghanistan watchtower in 2008 says he did not commit suicide, as the military claims, and had told them he feared he would be killed over his role in a drug ring that was being run on-base by a ‘thug’ sergeant
Army Pvt. Matthew Brown Died As a Result of a Non-Combat Related Incident in Afghanistan; Death Ruled Suicide But Family Alleges Murder in Vanity Fair Publication (May 11, 2008)

Fort Hood Army MSG Alva ‘Joe’ Gwinn Led Police on High Speed Car Chase After Welfare Check Initiated; Died by Suicide During the Incident (October 12, 2017)

Master Sergeant Alva Joe Gwinn

MSG Alva ‘Joe’ Gwinn, U.S. Army

Fort Hood Army Master Sergeant Alva ‘Joe’ Gwinn, 39, died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound on October 12, 2017 near the Williamson-Bell County line in Texas. Although the exact set of circumstances that led to MSG Gwinn taking his own life are unknown, the media reported that MSG Gwinn took his own life during an exchange of gunfire after leading the Killeen Police Department (KPD) on a high speed car chase. Prior to the incident, a concerned family member contacted the Fort Hood chain of command to report that Joe was experiencing a mental health breakdown and may be suicidal. The command contacted the military police who then asked the Killeen Police Department to do a ‘welfare check’ on MSG Gwinn. According to the KPD, MSG Gwinn was located in his car but took off when approached; they said MSG Gwinn then led police on a high speed car chase. According to reports, Alva fled on foot after pulling over, there was an exchange of gunfire with the KPD, and MSG Gwinn ended his life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. An officer involved shooting investigation was launched because gunfire was exchanged. Joe left behind two sons from a previous marriage and a wife and family who loved him very much. He is missed dearly.

On March 21, 2018, the media reported that a “Bell County Grand Jury reviewed the completed investigation done by the Texas Rangers and decided no indictment should be returned to the deputy in connection with the events leading to the death of a Fort Hood soldier.” MSG Gwinn’s home of record was listed as Richwood, West Virginia. MSG Gwinn served in the Army National Guard from 1996-1999 and then enlisted in the active-duty Army in September 1999 as a combat engineer. At the time of his death, MSG Gwinn was assigned to the 20th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade at Fort Hood since April 2012. MSG Gwinn served in the military for over twenty years and was eligible for retirement. When the media reported on the death of MSG Gwinn, they also mentioned a sexual assault accusation lodged against him in June 2016. They reported MSG Gwinn was scheduled to go to court in November 2017 as if they were implying there was a connection between the suicide and the court date scheduled the following month. One media source reported MSG Gwinn was a highly decorated combat veteran who was known for being a perfectionist and respected by his peers. MSG Gwinn deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan a total of five times while he served with the U.S. Army.

Editor’s Note: The circumstances that led to MSG Gwinn’s suicide inspired us to include him in a Fort Hood status of forces presentation we prepared for congressional representatives in Washington D.C. We believe things could have been handled better and we hope authorities learn from this experience in an effort to prevent it from happening again. We also found it in poor taste that the media mired MSG Gwinn’s reputation at the time of his death with an accusation of which he had not been found guilty of.

Areas of Concern:

  • On October 12, 2017, family informed the chain of command that MSG Gwinn was experiencing a mental health breakdown & may be suicidal; at the request of the chain of command, the military police asked the Killeen Police Department to do a ‘welfare check’ on MSG Gwinn; according to the KPD, they located MSG Gwinn in his car but he took off when approached and then led them on a high speed car chase that ended with an exchange of gunfire and MSG Gwinn taking his own life
  • How can we prevent a ‘welfare check’ from turning into an officer involved shooting, suicide by cop or suicide? Why was the high speed car chase necessary?
  • According to media reports, in June 2016, MSG Gwinn was arrested, indicted and charged by civilian authorities with “aggravated sexual assault” of a 12-year-old girl in 2012; the accusations surfaced in the midst of a child support and child custody case; MSG Gwinn maintained his innocence but a potential trial loomed and his military career and child visitation rights were on hold; Joe loved his family
  • The accusations negatively impacted MSG Gwinn’s military career and ability to spend time with his two sons; this in turn negatively impacted his mental health; the stress of the child custody case & accusations took their toll; up until this point, MSG Gwinn had a stellar military career and had never been accused of any crimes
  • According to local media, Alva was facing a trial in November 2017 and they made a loose connection between a pending trial date and MSG Gwinn’s suicide
  • What prompted the media to mire MSG Gwinn’s memory with an accusation when they reported on his death? Is that fair when the accused can’t defend themselves?
  • Whether guilty or innocent, this is a tragic end for a man accused of a crime
  • What does the Army do with the accused who are awaiting criminal trial?
  • Is Fort Hood responsible for the mental health of those accused of crimes?
  • What is the military’s policy on child visitation when a military member is accused of a crime against a child other than their own?

Related Links:
Obituary: Alva “Joe” Gwinn
Death of a Fort Hood Soldier (Ft Hood Press Center)
Fort Hood Fallen Warriors
Killeen man arrested for sexual assault of 12-year-old
Man arrested for aggravated sexual assault of a child
Fort Hood soldier arrested on aggravated sexual assault charge
Fort Hood soldier indicted in sexual assault case
Man who died in Thursday chase identified
Man in Bell County Chase was Fort Hood Soldier
Soldier who died in pursuit a decorated combat engineer
Soldier who led officers on Williamson Co. chase was facing sexual assault trial
Deputy in deadly Bell Co. chase was 12-year veteran, Williamson Co. sheriff’s office says
In the military, trusted officers became alleged assailants in sex crimes
Man who died after 2-county chase was facing child rape trial
Affidavit: Man in officer-involved shooting was charged with aggravated sexual assault of child
Ft. Hood Soldier leads police on high speed chase before killing himself
Authorities: Man shot after police chase in Bell County killed himself
Army master sergeant commits suicide during police shoot out after giving chase
Army MSG was facing charges of sexually assaulting 12 year old girl
Man who died during pursuit had court date for sexual assault of a child
Man who took own life after WilCo pursuit was soldier facing child sex assault charge
One dead after officer-involved shooting in Bell County
Affidavit: Suspect in officer-involved shooting was charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child
Man who died during pursuit had court date for sexual assault of a child
Ft. Hood Soldier leads police on high speed chase before killing himself
No charges filed against Williamson County deputy in officer-involved shooting
Army Soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas Are Dying at Alarming Rates Stateside
Violent Crime, Suicide, and Non Combat Death at Fort Hood, Texas (US Army)
Military Policy and Legislation Considerations for the Investigations of Non Combat Death, Homicide, and Suicide of US Service Members
Washington DC Veteran’s Presentation on the Current Status of the Armed Forces at Fort Hood in Texas (2017)

Army Staff Sgt. Alejandro Franquiz of Fort Riley, Kansas Found Dead from Apparent Self-Inflicted Gunshot Wound Inside Vehicle Parked on I-70 (July 31, 2017)

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Staff Sgt. Alejandro Franquiz, US Army

Army Staff Sgt. Alejandro Franquiz, 30, was found deceased inside a vehicle parked on Interstate 70 on July 31, 2017. Staff Sgt. Franquiz was a section chief with Company B, 601st Aviation Support Battalion, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas. Staff Sgt. Franquiz arrived at Fort Riley in October 2015 after having previously served at Fort Riley from December 2008 to August 2012. Staff Sgt. Franquiz deployed three times, twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. An autopsy has determined the cause of death was suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Related Links:
Obituary: Staff Sgt. Alejandro Franquiz
Fort Riley man found dead in vehicle
Man found dead in vehicle on I-70
Fort Riley man found dead in Geary County
Fort Riley man found dead in vehicle on I-70
Geary County authorities investigating death of man found in vehicle on Interstate 70
Fort Riley soldier died of self-inflicted gunshot wound
Fort Riley man found dead in Geary County ruled a suicide
Violent Crime, Suicide, and Non Combat Death at Fort Riley, Kansas

Army Spc. Darius Cooper Swept Away in Floodwater Crossing at Fort Hood; Body Never Recovered, Military Board Ruled Deceased 2 Months Later (April 11, 2017)

Darius Cooper

Spc. Darius Cooper, U.S. Army

On June 16, 2017, Fort Hood published a press release indicating the Fort Hood Fire and Rescue teams were unsuccessful in locating Army Spc. Darius Cooper, who was swept away in flooding waters at Clear Creek near Turkey Run Road on Fort Hood just before 6 a.m. on April 11, 2017. The press release informed the public that the Army appointed a board of inquiry (per Army Regulation 638-8, Army Casualty Program, and Department of Defense Instruction 2310.05, Accounting for Missing Persons) to conduct a status determination and ruled that Spc. Cooper was deceased, his official date of death was April 11, 2017. Spc. Cooper, 40, listed San Antonio, Texas as his home of record and he entered active-duty service in June 2008 as a culinary specialist. At the time of his death, Spc. Cooper was assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood in Texas since June 2016. Spc. Cooper deployed overseas in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. As of 2019, Spc. Cooper’s body has not been located, therefore he is still missing despite the status of determination ruling.

“More than 800 individuals were involved in the search, including emergency responders from Texas Task Force One boat and dog teams, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, Texas Game Warden’s lake search teams, Morgan’s Point Resort Police Department dive and sonar search teams, Fort Hood’s Crisis Response Battalion ground search teams, and 1st Air Cavalry Brigade helicopter assets who aided in the search.” -Fort Hood Press Center (June 16, 2017)

Timeline of Events:

April 11, 2017

Emergency crews respond to vehicles caught in high water (Fort Hood Press Center)
UPDATE 1: All Fort Hood low-water crossings, Old Georgetown Road remain closed (Fort Hood Press Center)
UPDATE 2: Driver’s vehicle recovered without driver inside (Fort Hood Press Center)

April 12, 2017

UPDATE 3: Texas’ Task Force One joins the search for missing person in Clear Creek (Fort Hood Press Center)
UPDATE 4: Updated photos and Broll of the April 12 ongoing search efforts (Fort Hood Press Center)

April 13, 2017

UPDATE 5: Search and rescue teams increased their effort to find the missing individual April 13, as water levels reduced allowing teams access to more locations. (Fort Hood Press Center)
UPDATE 6: Search team officials conduct media engagement (Fort Hood Press Center)

April 19, 2017

UPDATE 7: Deliberate search continues for missing individual (Fort Hood Press Center)

May 11, 2017

UPDATE 8: Deliberate search continues for missing Soldier (Fort Hood Press Center)

June 15, 2017

Soldier swept away at Fort Hood crossing declared dead (KWTX)
Ft. Hood declares missing soldier swept away in floodwaters dead (KXAN)
Fort Hood soldier missing since April declared dead by Army (WFAA)
Fort Hood calls off search, releases name of soldier who died in April 11 flash flood (Killeen Daily Herald)
Fort Hood soldier lost during April floods determined deceased (Statesman)
Fort Hood declares missing soldier deceased, release identity (CBS Austin)
Army: Fort Hood soldier determined dead after being swept away by flood waters (Army Times)

June 16, 2017

UPDATE 9: Fort Hood Soldier lost in April 11 flash flood determined deceased (Fort Hood Press Center)
Fort Hood Officials Declare Missing Soldier Dead (CBS DFW)
Soldier Swept Away By Flood Waters Pronounced Dead (KTEM)

Related Links:
SPC Darius Cooper, Afghanistan (DVIDS)
Army Soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas Are Dying at Alarming Rates Stateside (2019)
The Fort Hood Fallen on Facebook

Fort Hood CW02 Andre Nance, US Army, Found Unresponsive at Fort Rucker Hotel in Alabama While Attending Training (2017)

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CW02 Andre Nance, US Army

CW02 Andre Nance, 34, US Army, of Fort Hood was found unresponsive in his on-post hotel room at Fort Rucker, Alabama on February 27, 2017.  CW02 Nance’s home of record is listed as Randallstown, Maryland and he entered the Army in February 2004. CW02 Nance was attending the warrant officer advance course at Fort Rucker and was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, III Corps at Fort Hood. Nance deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from April 2009 to April 2010, January 2012 to March 2012, and June 2014 to March 2015. The circumstances surrounding the incident were under investigation by Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID). The official cause of death is unknown.

Related Links:
CW2 Andre Nance lg.jpg
Death of a Fort Hood Soldier
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Andre George Nance – III Corps
Deceased Fort Rucker soldier identified
Fort Hood Soldier Found Dead in Alabama Hotel
Fort Hood soldier found unresponsive at Fort Rucker
Army IDs Fort Rucker soldier found dead on post
Fort Hood: Soldier found dead in Alabama hotel identified
UPDATE: Soldier found dead at Fort Rucker hotel identified
Fort Hood soldier found dead on post in Alabama hotel
Army identifies Fort Hood soldier found dead in Alabama
Why Have So Many Fort Hood Army Soldiers Died Stateside in the Last Year?
Violent Crime, Suicide, and Non Combat Death at Fort Hood, Texas
The Fort Hood Fallen on Facebook

Military Policy and Legislation Considerations for the Investigations of Non Combat Death, Homicide, and Suicide of US Service Members

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Objective: Provide support to families who have lost loved ones to non combat death, homicide, and suicide. Prevent non combat death, homicide and suicide by providing an expedited transfer option to whistleblowers and those who feel like their lives may be in danger.

This is a small sample of the many soldiers that have died of non combat deaths, homicide, and suicide. It was hard for me to choose which ones to feature. Given the amount of families who have questioned a ruling of suicide while their loved one was serving in the US military, it’s fair to say that some suicide rulings should have a second look to determine if a homicide was ruled out. It’s important to note that if the cause of death is determined to be suicide, then the military never has to investigate again.

Continue reading

Violent Crime, Non Combat Death & Suicide at United States Military Bases

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*Research not complete.

My experiences as a victim of crime in the United States military inspired me to do the work I do today as a military justice policy analyst. Not only did I witness first hand how a predator operates but I witnessed multiple predator types in real time while serving my country. If these people committed these acts of crimes at work in the civilian world, they would have been in jail or I would have been rich after taking my employer to civil court. Well maybe not because the deck is stacked against the accuser but we do in fact have a civilian justice system that allows us to hold others accountable, while it simultaneously protects the due process rights of the accused. This cannot be said of the military justice system. There is no guarantee a military Commander will do anything with a crime report let alone process the felony crime effectively. We do not want a justice system where one man or woman decides whether to do nothing, give a non judicial punishment for a felony crime, or railroad the accused or accuser. We do want a justice system where we can hold our employer accountable without roadblocks from the Pentagon, Congress, and the Feres Doctrine. We cannot effectively tackle the violent crime issue in the military until the victims of crimes, like sexual assault and domestic violence, feel safe enough to report. Crime victims have expressed that they do not want to report crimes to a Commander for fear of retaliation. The Department of Defense admitted that of those of who did report the crime, 62% perceived that they faced retaliation. If service members felt safe enough to report, it could help us prevent homicide, suicide, and non combat death.

If we think about violent crime committed by military personnel compared to violent crime statistics in the United States (reference above graph), at first glance it appears the military has a homicide ‘issue’ among the ranks. Please see the below links for a sample of crime on some of the U.S. military bases. All military bases worldwide will eventually be included in this research. And the research for sexual assault, rape, domestic violence, and physical assault specifically has not been conducted yet either. Because the research is far from being complete, it is too early to make any assumptions so I will put the data in one place and let you come to your own conclusions. But if military crime mirrors civilian crime statistics, one can deduce that if the military has a lot of homicide, there is even more rape. Currently the number one concern in the military is a Commander’s ability to give a non judicial punishment for a felony crime. A Commander can bypass the courts martial process simply by punishing and/or discharging the accused with a preponderance of the evidence. This does nothing to protect our military personnel and the civilians who live near our bases in America and worldwide. Predators do not discriminate. They are just as likely to harm civilians as they are military personnel. They know their rights and they know that jurisdiction issues and lack of communication among law enforcement agencies will help prolong getting caught. We need to be one step ahead.

We can’t get real violent crime numbers for the military bases unless we include those who died of non combat deaths while they were deployed. Veterans Noonie Fortin and Ann Wright inspired me to initially look into the non combat deaths of female soldiers overseas because they observed the unusually high number of female soldiers who died of non combat deaths during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their chief concern was that although the military labels a non combat death as a suicide, there are suspicions that some female soldiers were murdered, like LaVena Johnson, Amy Tirador, and Ciara Durkin. I did the research on every single female soldier who died from non combat deaths overseas and their concerns are valid. My research on non combat deaths in Iraq alone revealed that roughly 30% of female soldiers died as a result of homicide, suicide, and other unknown causes. I am working on collecting the data for male soldiers who died from non combat related injuries in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other areas. I started with 2010 so we can get the most recent cases but I will go back to September 11, 2001 in the next phase of data collection. The first male soldier non combat death case I found in 2010 was an unsolved homicide. His name was SSG Anton Phillips and he was stabbed to death in Afghanistan. Further research in this area has uncovered that non combat deaths of male soldiers are just as prevalent.

Learn more:
The US Military Recruited Violent Felons to Support the War Efforts
Non Combat Deaths of Female Soldiers in the US Military (Afghanistan)
Non Combat Deaths of Female Soldiers in the US Military (Iraq)
Non Combat Deaths of Female Soldiers in the US Military (Other Areas)
Violent Crime, Non Combat Death & Suicide at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (US Army)
Violent Crime, Non Combat Death & Suicide at Fort Campbell, Kentucky (US Army)
Violent Crime, Non Combat Death & Suicide at Fort Carson, Colorado (US Army)
Violent Crime, Non Combat Death & Suicide at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington
Violent Crime, Non Combat Death & Suicide at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas
Violent Crime at Fort Wainwright, Alaska (US Army)
Violent Crime at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska
A List of Soldiers Targeted & Murdered for the Servicemen’s Group Life Insurance Benefits
Rep Nikki Tsongas & Rep Mike Turner Host Educational Caucus: Improving Treatment Resources for Male Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma
An Open Letter to the Senate and House of Representatives in Support of the Military Justice Improvement Act
Letter of Support for Save Our Heroes in Our Shared Quest for Military Justice Reform & Constitutional Rights