AUSTIN, Texas - Congress will launch an investigation into sexual assault, disappearances, deaths and the leadership’s response at Fort Hood after 28 soldiers stationed at the U.S. Army base in Texas died this year, two subcommittee leaders announced Tuesday.
Democratic Reps. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts and Jackie Speier of California sent a letter to Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy requesting documents and information on the deaths. Lynch chairs the Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on National Security, and Speier leads the Committee on Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Military Personnel.
According to the letter, the subcommittees will jointly investigate if recent deaths “may be symptomatic of underlying leadership, discipline, and morale deficiencies throughout the chain-of-command.”
The letter said that according to Army data there were an average of 129 felonies committed annually at Fort Hood between 2014 and 2019, including cases of homicide, sexual assault, kidnapping, robbery and aggravated assault.
The members of Congress cited the deaths of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, who according to federal officials was bludgeoned to death at the Texas base in April by a fellow soldier, and Pvt. Gregory Morales, whose remains were found in June while searching for Guillen. Morales was reported missing in August 2019.
The letter also names Pvt. Mejhor Morta and Sgt. Elder Fernandes, whose deaths are still under investigation, and the homicide investigations of Pvt. Brandon Scott Rosecrans, Spc. Freddy Delacruz Jr. and Spc. Shelby Tyler Jones.
According to the letter, McCarthy during an August visit to Texas stated that Fort Hood had the “highest, the most cases for sexual assault and harassment and murders for our entire formation of the US Army.”
Lynch and Speier said they will report the conditions and circumstances that could have contributed to the soldiers’ deaths and seek justice on behalf of soldiers and families “who may have been failed by a military system and culture that was ultimately responsible for their care and protection.”
The family of Guillen, whose remains were found on July 1, has rallied from Texas to the doors of the White House calling for a congressional investigation. Natalie Khawam, who represents the Guillen family, said she is thankful Congress has agreed to their demands to investigate.
“Our soldiers and their families deserve the truth,” Khawam said.
Statement from Vanessa Guillen's family attorney:
I am extremely proud and humbled that my relentless efforts to protect and fight for our soldiers have worked and that Congress has agreed to give us the Congressional Investigation that I demanded our soldiers. The Army attempted to appease everyone with their own “special” investigations, but I refused to accept such specious investigations. The Army’s own investigation of itself is a Trojan horse that I refused to accept, and that’s why I continued to fight for these soldiers and their families. Like I said many times, we will not accept anything less than a Congressional Investigation, and I’m proud to say we will finally have one. Our soldiers and their families deserve to know the truth. I look forward to working with Congress both on this Congressional Investigation and getting the #IamVanessaGuillen Bill passed so that our soldiers get the rights and protections they deserve! God Bless America and God Bless our Military!