House Lawmakers to Investigate Deaths at Texas Army Base

An entrance to the Fort Hood military base in Texas. (AP Photo/Tamir Kalifa, File)

KILLEEN, Texas (CN) — Two House subcommittees announced Tuesday an investigation into the leadership at Fort Hood after the deaths of 28 soldiers at the central Texas post this year, in addition to reports of sexual assaults.

The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel and House Oversight and Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on National Security asked Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy to produce documents concerning the disappearance and deaths of Sergeant Elder Fernandes, Specialist Vanessa Guillen, Private Gregory Wedel-Morales and Private Mejhor Morta.

The subcommittees also seek documents regarding the deaths of Private First Class Brandon Scott Rosecrans, Specialist Freddy Delacruz Jr. and Specialist Shelby Tyler Jones.

An eight-page letter authored by respective subcommittee leaders Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., states they “are jointly investigating whether an alarming pattern of recent tragedies at Fort Hood, Texas, may be symptomatic of underlying leadership, discipline and morale deficiencies throughout the chain-of-command.”

“Where appropriate, we intend to seek justice on behalf of those in uniform, and their families, who may have been failed by a military system and culture that was ultimately responsible for their care and protection,” the letter states. “According to the Army, between 2014 and 2019, there were an average of 129 felonies committed annually at Fort Hood, including cases of homicide, sexual assault, kidnapping, robbery and aggravated assault.”

Private Corlton Chee, 25, of Pinehill, New Mexico, was the 28th soldier to die this year at Fort Hood when he collapsed after a physical fitness training exercise last week.

Guillen, 20, from Houston, received the most media coverage when she disappeared from the base in April. Her body was found three months later in Bell County. Specialist Aaron Robinson committed suicide when police attempted to arrest him for the death. Guillen’s family accuse Army leadership of covering-up her death, claiming Robinson had sexually harassed her before her disappearance and death.

Robinson’s girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, 22, faces up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted on a charge of conspiracy to tamper with evidence. Federal prosecutors accuse Aguilar of helping to bury Guillen after Robinson killer her with a hammer at a Fort Hood armory.

Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Driece M. Harris confirmed Wednesday that Fort Hood officials will comply with the information request.

“We are deeply saddened by these tragedies and have several ongoing investigations and reviews to better understand the climate, the leadership, resources, and determine if systemic problems exist,” she said in an email message.

Congressman Lynch said the investigation seeks to determine “whether base leadership allowed or enabled a culture to exist” that lead to the disappearances and deaths.

“These tragic losses are a breach of the traditions that we have come to expect from our armed services and mark a failure to respect and honor the decision of these young men and women who volunteered to serve our country,” he tweeted.

Lynch’s intervention comes two weeks after he demanded a complete investigation into the death of Fernandes, 23, from Brockton, Massachusetts. Fernandes was found hung in a tree in nearby Temple on Aug. 25, soon after he reported allegations of sexual abuse, bullying and retaliation against him.

The announcement of the House investigation comes one week after Major General Scott Efflandt was relieved of command at Fort Hood. Secretary McCarthy has since ordered an independent review of the post, but the subcommittees say that is not enough.

“While the Army has directed an independent review of Fort Hood, congressional oversight is necessary to determine whether base leadership – by omission or commission – has allowed or enabled a culture to exist that undermines the values and traditions of the U.S. Army,” the letter states.

Fort Hood officials have until Oct. 2 to produce the documents.

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