‘We let her down‘: Secretary of Army discusses efforts to address death of Guillen, other soldiers

FORT HOOD, Texas – The Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy held a news conference Thursday in Fort Hood to discuss the death of Spc. Vanessa Guillen and other recent events that have plagued the military base.

Four soldiers from the base have been found dead in a matter of weeks.

In late June, skeletal remains were found in a field near Fort Hood. The remains were later identified as 24-year-old missing soldier Gregory Morales. Authorities said they suspect foul play.

Guillen was stationed at Fort Hood and had been missing for months when her body was found buried near the Leon River in Bell County, shortly after Morales’ death. According to a federal complaint, the 20-year-old was killed and dismembered at the base by a fellow Fort Hood soldier who later shot himself.

Weeks after Guillen’s body was found, the body of 26-year-old Pvt. Mejhor Morta was found at Stillhouse Hollow Lake. He is believed to have drowned.

On Sunday, the body of a fourth soldier was found at Stillhouse Lake. Authorities said Francisco Gilberto Hernandezvargas, 24, was being pulled in a tube when he went underwater.

Authorities said there is no indication that any of the deaths are related.

During the news conference, McCarthy said there has been a reckoning as the Army takes a hard look at itself. Guillen’s death served as a catalyst, bringing to light the many issues within the military such as sexual harassment and sexual assault.

“We must honor her memory by creating enduring change, as one harassment and assault is one too many,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said he has directed and independent review of the command climate and will release the result to the media and congress once they are available.

In addition, the Army is rolling out “Project Inclusion,” which will address behaviors and issues such as a lack of diversity, discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault and suicide.

McCarthy said he met with soldiers at every echelon to tell them of the investigations being conducted to identify the root cause of felonies and violent acts at Fort Hood and understand why this is happening.

“The numbers are high here. They are the highest, in most cases, for sexual assault, harassments and murders for our entire formation,” McCarthy said. “... We are going to put every resource and all the energy we can in this entire institution behind fixing these problems.”

McCarthy said he was “markedly disappointed and sad” that Guillen was killed by one of her own teammates. Her death rattled the trust that people in the military have to have for one another and the only thing the Army can do is come together, invest in and learn about each other to know who your teammates are, McCarthy said.

“Vanessa was our teammate and we let her down. We let her family down. It hurts,” McCarthy said. “...We are going to do everything we can to prevent these types of things from happening again, to learn from this and to move on. We will do everything we can to protect her legacy by making enduring changes.”

Watch the full news conference below

🔴 WATCH LIVE: Secretary of Army discusses efforts to address death of Guillen, other soldiers

Posted by KPRC2 / Click2Houston on Thursday, August 6, 2020

About the Author:

Daniela Sternitzky-Di Napoli has been a digital news editor at KPRC 2 since 2018. She is a published poet and has background in creative writing and journalism. Daniela has covered events like Hurricane Harvey and the Astros World Series win. In her spare time, Daniela is an avid reader and loves to spend time with her two miniature dachshunds.