Congress investigates Fort Hood following soldier deaths

National

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — 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 namesPvt. 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.

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Acacia Coronado is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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