Army Non-public’s Dying and Claims of Harassment Once more Shine Highlight on Fort Hood

A 20-year-old Army personal stationed at Fort Hood was discovered lifeless this week, and investigators are inspecting claims from her household that the younger lady had skilled harassment from superiors on the Texas army base.

The demise of Ana Fernanda Basaldua Ruiz, a fight engineer with the first Cavalry Division, comes simply three years after Vanessa Guillén, a 20-year-old soldier at Fort Hood, was sexually assaulted and murdered in April 2020. That case precipitated a nationwide outcry, uncovered systemic issues of sexual assault on the base and all through the service, and resulted in federal legal guidelines overhauling army legal justice.

Fort Hood officers mentioned in a press launch Thursday that “no foul play is obvious” within the demise of Basaldua, who had been on base for 15 months, however an investigation is ongoing. Her household has publicly indicated the younger soldier was struggling and will have confronted a poisonous work setting at Fort Hood.

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Alejandra Ruiz Zarco, Basaldua’s mom who lives in Mexico, advised Telemundo News on Wednesday that her daughter mentioned an Army superior “was harassing her” and that she allegedly obtained sexual advances on the bottom, saying that “‘everybody needs me to sleep with them,'” in accordance with a translation of what the lady recalled to the Hispanic media outlet.

The household has enlisted the assistance of the Pink Berets, a nonprofit advocacy group that helps ladies in uniform. Lucy Del Gaudio, the chief operations officer for the group, advised in an electronic mail the household mentioned Basaldua was being “harassed by superiors,” which is why they reached out for recommendation and steerage.

“Our household needs to make sure that ladies serving in the USA army may be protected and guarded,” Basaldua’s household mentioned in an announcement by the Pink Berets. “The US can’t be protected by troopers which are victims of heinous crimes. The household is asking for help and a proper investigation into Ana’s demise.”

Fort Hood mentioned in a press launch that the Army’s Legal Investigation Division, often known as CID, is gathering proof and looking out into the claims of harassment.

“Army CID will proceed to conduct a radical investigation and collect all proof and information to make sure they uncover precisely what transpired,” Fort Hood mentioned in a press launch. “Info associated to any potential harassment will likely be addressed and investigated totally.”

Col. Christopher Dempsey, the commander of the first Armored Brigade Fight Group, 1st Cavalry Division, mentioned in a press launch that the Army is staying in contact with the household all through the investigation.

“Our hearts and ideas exit to the household, associates and colleagues of Ana,” Dempsey mentioned. “We’ve remained in fixed contact with each dad and mom … and can proceed to maintain them up to date.”

The proximity of the Basaldua and Guillén deaths — simply three years faraway from one another — sparked speedy concern amongst authorized consultants and advocates about what has been executed to deal with the tradition of sexual harassment, assault and violence at Fort Hood, and whether or not wide-ranging reforms within the army have gone far sufficient in addressing systemic points.

Previous to Guillén’s demise and disappearance, she advised her household she was being sexually harassed. Authorities alleged Guillén was murdered by Aaron David Robinson, a fellow soldier who died by suicide when legislation enforcement made contact with him. The one individual to face costs within the homicide was Cecily Aguilar, whom authorities say was Robinson’s girlfriend. She pleaded responsible this previous November to costs linked to serving to dismember and conceal Guillén’s physique.

Within the wake of Guillén’ demise, the Army introduced in July 2020 that the Fort Hood Impartial Evaluation Committee would examine the local weather and tradition on the base. The 136-page report issued a couple of months later pointed to 70 areas that wanted to be improved upon, starting from insurance policies concerning lacking troopers on base to mandatory enhancements that must be made to Fort Hood’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program, often known as SHARP.

Final yr, on Jan. 1, the “I Am Vanessa Guillén Act” went into impact underneath the Nationwide Protection Authorization Act. Provisions included leaving the selection to prosecute sexual assault and harassment exterior of the service member’s chain of command, expanded protections towards retaliation, and sentencing tips, amongst different reforms.

Mayra Guillén, Vanessa’s sister, mentioned Wednesday on Twitter that she was conscious of Basaldua’s demise and deliberate to be in contact with the household.

“I am conscious of the demise of Ana Basaldua in Ft Hood, TX,” she wrote. “I will likely be talking to the household quickly, I discover it very delicate to talk on one thing I am not totally conscious [of] but and that is additionally very triggering for me. … I would like to collect my ideas after which I am going to be capable to share them.”

The demise at Fort Hood on Monday is once more shining the nationwide highlight on a base that was simply on the middle of one of many largest Army scandals in current reminiscence. Nerves are nonetheless uncooked after the Guillén homicide, which sparked a Netflix documentary final yr.

Sean Timmons, a Texas-based managing associate for the Tully Rinckey legislation agency and a former choose advocate normal at Fort Hood, advised in an interview Friday that he has firsthand expertise in seeing base management dodge duty for incompetence.

Partially, that is because of the huge measurement of Fort Hood and the bodily distance it has from Pentagon management, Timmons advised

“The tradition at Fort Hood has been, for the final 25 years, a tradition the place the command feels immune from culpability, immune from oversight, and immune from legal responsibility as a result of they function 1000’s of miles away from the Pentagon in part of Texas the place the native tradition could be very pro-military,” he mentioned. “So, no person second-guesses what they do, they usually really feel above the legislation. You see that filter by the maltreatment of troopers.”

Additionally, Timmons mentioned the operational tempo on the base — residence to the III Armored Corps and the first Cavalry Division — paired with a poisonous setting among the many enlisted troopers has led to disastrous outcomes.

“Management has exhausted the operational tempo far past the capability they’ll deal with, and that leads to sleep deprivation and fatigue, which then leads to poor judgment; poor decision-making; and really, very silly outcomes from a poisonous setting for particular person junior troopers,” he mentioned. “And loads of junior troopers are thought of like tires; they’re interchangeable. They arrive, they get placed on, they put on them out to explode and change them.”

Fort Hood’s deep dysfunction main as much as Guillén’s homicide was detailed by the overview committee’s report. However widespread sexual assault and sexual harassment have been long-standing points for the Protection Division as an entire. For years, it has tried to scale back incidents and improve reporting with little to no success.

A 2021 report from the Pentagon discovered that 29% of ladies and seven% of males skilled sexual harassment within the ranks, saying “29 p.c is a rise in prevalence and seems to be pushed by experiences of enlisted ladies and people underneath the age of 25.” Simply final week, the Pentagon launched findings on reported assaults on the army service academies, which confirmed an total 18% soar in assaults reported by college students in contrast with the earlier yr.

Basaldua’s household now has authorized counsel, with the assistance of Del Gaudio’s group Pink Berets.

Del Gaudio advised in an interview that she believes assault and harassment throughout the ranks are significantly rampant at Fort Hood, and that accountability is just not practically in scale to the scale of the bottom.

“For me, personally, as an advocate, it is a Fort Hood problem,” Del Gaudio mentioned. “It’s extremely huge, it is within the middle of nowhere, it has its personal ZIP code. I imply, it is enormous. … What occurs is there, once more, loads of issues get swept underneath the rug. Why is not there extra accountability for a publish, a base, that measurement?”

Del Gaudio mentioned Basaldua’s household first bought in contact with Pink Berets partly as a result of its involvement within the “I Am Vanessa Guillén” documentary on Netflix. The chief working officer for the group mentioned the similarities between the 2 incidents are alarming.

“What actually bought me is, once more, Latina in her 20s that is the place for me it turns into private,” Del Gaudio advised “Ana, like Vanessa, at all times needed to be a soldier. She at all times needed to enter the army. That was her objective.”

— Thomas Novelly may be reached at Comply with him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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