SPONSORED:

Lawmakers launch investigation into Fort Hood after 28th death this year

Lawmakers launch investigation into Fort Hood after 28th death this year
© Getty Images

Two House subcommittees on Tuesday opened an investigation into the string of recent soldier deaths at Fort Hood, Texas, and called on the Army to provide more documents and information. 

The House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security and the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel "are jointly investigating whether an alarming pattern of recent tragedies at Fort Hood, Texas, may be symptomatic of underlying leadership, discipline, and morale deficiencies throughout the chain-of-command," wrote the respective subpanel heads, Reps. Stephen LynchStephen Francis LynchOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Top general negative for coronavirus, Pentagon chief to get tested after Trump result l Top House lawmakers launch investigation into Pentagon redirecting COVID-19 funds Top House lawmakers launch investigation into Pentagon redirecting COVID-19 funds Overnight Defense: Pentagon redirects pandemic funding to defense contractors | US planning for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May | Anti-Trump GOP group puts ads in military papers MORE (D-Mass) and Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierDemocratic Women's Caucus members split endorsements for House campaign chief Pentagon puts on show of force as questions circle on COVID-19 outbreak Candymakers meet virtually with lawmakers for annual fly-in, discuss Halloween safety MORE (D-Calif.), in a letter to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyArmy secretary responds to news reports on sexual assault allegations in military: 'we must do better' OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Esper reportedly working with lawmakers to strip Confederate names from bases | Enemy attacks in Afghanistan jump by 50 percent, watchdog says | Fort Hood soldier arrested, charged in Chelsea Cheatham killing Fort Hood soldier arrested, charged in Chelsea Cheatham killing MORE

"Where appropriate, we intend to seek justice on behalf of those in uniform, and their families, who may have been failed by a military system and culture that was ultimately responsible for their care and protection.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Fort Hood is one of the military's most troubled installations, with an average of 129 felonies committed annually between 2014 and 2019, including cases of homicide, sexual assault, kidnapping, robbery and aggravated assault, according to Army data.

Last week, Pvt. Corlton Chee, 25, died after he collapsed following a physical fitness training exercise five days earlier. He was the 28th soldier at the post to die this year, according to The Associated Press.

Chee's death follows the disappearances and later discovery of the bodies of  Sgt. Elder Fernandes, 23, Pfc. Vanessa Guillen, 20, Pvt. Mejhor Morta, 26, and Pfc. Gregory Morales, 24. 

Fernandes was found hanging in a tree in late August in Temple, Texas, about 28 miles from the base. His family attorney has said he was “humiliated” after reporting sexual abuse, and his death is under investigation. 

Guillen, the highest-profile death, went missing in April before her body was discovered in July. Army officials suspect another soldier, Aaron David Robinson, of bludgeoning her to death.

ADVERTISEMENT

Morta, meanwhile, was found unresponsive on July 17 near Stillhouse Hollow Lake, which acts as a reservoir and is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Fort Worth District.

Morales went missing exactly one year before Fernandes, and his remains were discovered in June in Killeen, Texas. His death remains under investigation.

The Army has since announced changes to Fort Hood leadership. It announced last week it was removing the commander, Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, from his role and barring him from a planned position at another Texas base.

McCarthy in July directed the service to independently review the command climate at the installation.

But Lynch and Speier say that's not enough. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“While the Army has directed an independent review of Fort Hood, Congressional oversight is necessary 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,” they write.

The two are requesting all relevant medical and administrative records and communications between Fort Hood leadership, military police, the Army Criminal Investigative Division, and state and local law enforcement related to any sexual assault or harassment allegations made by Fernandes, Guillen, Morales and Morta. It also wants all records and communications related to their disappearances and deaths.

They also want the specific timelines related to the Fort Hood response to any sexual assault or harassment allegations made by the four soldiers. 

They ask that the Army provide the documents by Oct. 2.