Following a bizarre series of disappearances and deaths in and around Fort Hood, Congress announced it will launch an investigation into the U.S. Army base in Texas. The inquiry will examine whether the recent tragedies “may be symptomatic of underlying leadership, discipline, and morale deficiencies through the chain-of-command.”
This year alone, nearly 30 soldiers have died at Fort Hood, with at least nine under unusual or suspicious circumstances. Specialist Vanessa Guillén, for instance, was found dead in July after telling her family that she was facing sexual harassment at the base.
Speaking with NPR in July, Guillén’s sister Lupe said that Vanessa “was too afraid to report the harassment because no one would listen to her.” She added, “that’s why we asked for a congressional investigation.”
Then, just last month, the body of Sgt. Elder Fernandes surfaced near Fort Hood, days after his family reported him missing. He had previously reported sexual abuse at the army base. In spite of the appearance, police do not suspect foul play in his death. Still, had Fernandes committed suicide, it may well have been in connection to the trauma he experienced at Fort Hood.
Rep. Stephen Lynch, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Rep. Jackie Speier, Democrat of California, sent a letter on Tuesday to the Secretary of the Army, outlining their inquiry plans. “Where appropriate,” their letter read, “we intend to seek justice on behalf of those in uniform, and their families.” Lynch and Speier suggest that the number of tragedies at Fort Hood suggest they may stem from more systemic issues. The victims, their letter asserts, “may have been failed by a military system and culture that was ultimately responsible for their care and protection.”
But the House investigation is just the latest in a growing list of inquiries into the suspicious events at Fort Hood. The Army has already launched its own probe into Guillén’s death, and earlier this month, expanded it to include other related investigations. Additionally, the Army announced in July that it would form an independent panel to review the culture at Fort Hood and its impact of soldiers. But the Hispanic Caucus of the Texas State Senate has called upon Congress to look into the matter further, fearing that the Army’s own inquiries are not enough.
Lynch and Speier’s letter goes on to assert that the Army’s probes are insufficient. “Congressional oversight is necessary,” their letter reads, “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.”