A new petition launched by a grassroots group of female troops and veterans is calling on Congress to shut down Fort Hood, Texas and fire its chain of command for how it handled the case of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen, the alleged victim of a brutal murder by a fellow male soldier.
Launched July 4, the National Women Veterans & Service Women Sign-On Letter -- #JusticeForVanessaGuillen, has so far gathered 2,100 signatures, among them hundreds from active-duty troops. In addition to the base closure and firings, the petition calls for an end to the entrenched culture of sexual assault and sexual harassment that exists throughout the military, Pam Campos-Palma, organizer of the petition, told Military.com.
"I have never seen something like this, ever," she said. "I am Latina, my mother is a Honduran immigrant. So I myself am Vanessa Guillen."
The petition comes after Guillen's story made national headlines. The 20-year-old 3rd Cavalry Regiment soldier, who disappeared on April 22, was allegedly murdered by Army Spc. Aaron Robinson under brutal circumstances, according to a July 2 criminal complaint filed by the U.S. attorney's office for the Western District of Texas. Fort Hood officials have yet to publicly confirm that they’ve identified Guillen’s remains.
Robinson shot and killed himself June 30 when confronted by police. Two days later, federal authorities filed a criminal complaint charging 22-year-old Cecily Aguilar, a civilian and the estranged wife of a Fort Hood soldier, with conspiracy to tamper with evidence in Guillen's case.
Robinson told Aguilar that he killed Guillen "by striking her in the head with a hammer" while on-post, and smuggled her body to a remote site in Bell County, according to the complaint. Aguilar allegedly then helped Robinson mutilate and dispose of Guillen's body.
Natalie Khawam, an attorney representing Guillen's family, has alleged that Robinson sexually harassed Guillen before he murdered her. Fort Hood and Army Criminal Investigation Command officials said July 2 that there is no credible evidence that Guillen was the victim of sexual harassment.
Army officials informed Guillen's family that the human remains found near Fort Hood last week had been identified as Vanessa Guillen's, Khawam told the Associated Press. Fort Hood officials are expected to provide an update on the case Monday evening.
Campos-Palma said she was compelled to launch this petition after seeing so many female veterans post stories on the internet about being sexually harassed and feeling helpless in a culture that ignores the behavior.
"I saw all of these stories all over the internet that were so triggering, and all I could think about is, how many years are we going to keep ripping our wounds open to believed that this is a problem when we know it's a problem," said Campos-Palma, who testified before Congress last December about her experiences of being sexually harassed and assaulted while serving from 2006 to 2017 in the Air Force.
U.S. Navy veteran Stephanie Gattas said she helped Campos-Palma create the petition to "bring justice not just to Vanessa Guillen but to all the women before her that have been murdered or have been raped."
"It's very important that we stand in solidarity with Vanessa's family because we all share their pain we share their anger," said Gattas, the founder of The Pink Berets, a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting women of the U.S. military veterans afflicted with invisible injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
"As people read this story, they cannot fathom the agony that this family has had to endure and not just losing their daughter who decided to give her life for this country but in the manner in which she lost it."
The petition is calling for an independent congressional investigation "not just into how her disappearance happened, but for those that should have been involved or should have done something about it," Gattas said.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., are also calling for change. This month they signed a letter calling on Pentagon Acting Inspector General Sean O'Donnell to conduct a "a full investigation of the circumstances surrounding SPC Guillen's disappearance."
"SPC Guillen's disappearance raises deep, troubling concerns about the Army's ability to prevent sexual harassment and assault, respond to criminal acts, and provide justice for victims and their families," the July 2 letter states. "We worry that these shortcomings are not limited to a single case or installation, and require a decisive response."
Campos-Palma said most women who have served in the military have experienced or know someone who has experienced sexual harassment or assault.
"It took me years to realize that a fellow airmen at my Christmas party groping me under the table was not normal," she said.
"I don't think this is a time to relitigate when women were raped in service. I think that this is a moment to really question why after ... decades of so-called zero-tolerance policies, that our most trusted institutions in this country have done nothing to stop it."
The petition demands that "Fort Hood should be shut down, that it is clearly a danger and a threat to soldiers and that is irresponsible to just let it go and continue operations as normal," Campos-Palma said.
The petition is also calling for the entire chain of command at Fort Hood be fired and replaced.
Military.com reached out to Fort Hood for comment but did not immediately receive a response.
The petition is also asking that the Guillen family be given an audience at a congressional hearing.
"And the last one is the one I have seen the most energy from young women ... which is if there is not justice served, if there is not an actual intervention by Congress now, then we demand the boycotting of enlistments," Campos-Palma said.
"That we should not give our sons and daughters to a military does not keep us safe and does not uphold its promise."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.