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September 22, 2020

Pressley Joins Speier, Colleagues on Congressional Delegation to Investigate 30 Servicemembers’ Deaths, Culture of Violence and Retaliation at Fort Hood

Watch Rep. Pressley’s Remarks at Fort Hood Press Conference Here

WASHINGTON – Over the weekend, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) joined Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA-14), Chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, and several colleagues on a congressional delegation to Fort Hood to investigate the Army’s failed response to the disappearance and gruesome murder of SPC Vanessa Guillén and the deaths of SGT Elder Fernandes, PV2 Gregory Wedel-Morales, PFC Brandon Rosecrans, SPC Freddy Delacruz, and many more.

So far this year, nearly 30 servicemembers at the base have died, including eight killed in accidents, six suicides, five homicides, and two related to illness. The cause of at least six other deaths is undetermined. Army Leadership admits that Fort Hood has the worst rate of violent crime and incidents among all of its U.S. installations. Over the course of three days, Congresswoman Pressley and her colleagues spoke to servicemembers of all ranks, their spouses, leadership and advocates about the appalling living conditions on the base and the culture of violence and harassment that has left the brave individuals serving our country to live in a state of constant fear while being subjected to substandard housing conditions that threaten troop readiness and morale, and the health and wellbeing of their families.

“With nearly 30 deaths in the last year alone, it is abundantly clear that the problems at Fort Hood are serious and systemic, and we must get to the root of this,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “While I remain deeply disturbed and disheartened by much of what I saw during our visit, I am encouraged by all of the servicemembers and their families who have stepped up and spoken out in an effort to address this crisis and affirm the safety of every person who lives and works on this base. There can be no justice for the families of Elder Fernandes, Vanessa Guillen, and the countless others who lost loved ones at Fort Hood—for justice would mean that they are still with us today—but there will be accountability, and we will be efficient and effective in pursuit of the truth.”

“After talking with sevicemembers of every rank and station, I have come away with more questions than answers and even more grave concerns about the health, welfare, and safety of the brave women and men who serve there,” Chair Speier said. “In my decade on the House Armed Services Committee, and the numerous military installations I have visited, I have never seen a location in worse shape or in greater need of an overhaul than Fort Hood. New base leadership acknowledged the depth and breadth of the problems and said they have identified several solutions. I appreciate their forthrightness and honesty when meeting with my colleagues and me, and want to make sure that their words are met with action proportionate to the scale of the toxic culture that permeates every aspect of life on the base. Given the Department of Defense’s investment of nearly $1 billion on the rampant problem of sexual harassment and assault over the past decade, and with too little progress to show for it, I strongly believe the systemic problems at Fort Hood require further congressional oversight, which is why I will return to the base in a few months and continue to hold leadership to account.”

Congresswoman Pressley and Chair Speier were joined by Reps. Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (CA-39), Jason Crow (CO-06), Stephen Lynch (MA-08), Katherine Clark (MA-05), and Sylvia Garcia (TX -29) in talking to servicemembers on the base, questioning base and Army leadership, and inspecting the crime scenes connected to several of these cases.

“Our congressional oversight trip to Fort Hood was concerning and upsetting, as we left with more questions than answers. In talking to our soldiers, it’s clear that there needs to be improvements made, from reporting sexual harassment and assault to military base housing to overall morale,” Rep. Cisneros said. “Military leadership has a lot of work to do in order to turn things around. The I Am Vanessa Guillen Act is just a first step to changing our military culture, but we need to do more.”

“Our soldiers have enough to worry about. They shouldn’t be having to worry about whether their housing is safe and secure, whether there’s mold in their housing, whether there’s going to be a murder on base, or whether their personal safety and welfare is at risk,” Rep. Crow said. “Protecting our nation’s finest is one of our most solemn responsibilities. In our system, it’s the United States Congress that decides what type of military our nation will have. That’s why we are here today to say that we can and we must do better for our fine young men and women.”

Congresswoman Pressley delivered remarks at a press conference during her visit. Watch her full remarks here

In August, Congresswoman Pressley joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts Congressional delegation in formally requesting that the Department of Defense (DoD) Inspector General conduct a complete and thorough investigation into the circumstances that led to the disappearance and death of Sergeant Elder Fernandes, a 23 year-old native of Brockton, Massachusetts, who was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood.

She is also an original co-sponsor of the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act, introduced last week by Congresswoman Speier and 94 colleagues, which would transform the military’s response to sexual violence and missing servicemembers.

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