Fort Hood, Texas— A 20-year-old US Army soldier stationed at Fort Hood was found dead this week, and investigators are looking into her family’s claims that the young woman had been harassed by superiors on the military base. from Texas.
The death of Ana Fernanda Basaldúa Ruiz, a combat engineer with the 1st Cavalry Division, comes just three years after Vanessa Guillén, a 20-year-old soldier at Fort Hood, was sexually assaulted and murdered in April 2020. That case it sparked nationwide protests, exposed systemic sexual assault problems on base and throughout the Service, and resulted in federal laws that reformed military criminal justice.
Fort Hood officials said in a news release Thursday that there is “no evidence of foul play” in the death of Basaldúa, who had been on the base for 15 months but is under investigation. Her family publicly indicated that the young soldier was struggling and that she may have faced a toxic work environment at Fort Hood.
Alejandra Ruiz Zarco, Basaldúa’s mother who lives in Mexico, told Telemundo Noticias on Wednesday that her daughter said an Army superior “was harassing her” and that she allegedly received sexual advances on the base, saying that “everyone wants me to go to bed.” with them”, according to a translation of what the woman mentioned to the Hispanic media.
The family has enlisted the help of Pink Berets, a nonprofit advocacy group that supports women in uniform. Lucy Del Gaudio, the organization’s director of operations, told Military.com in an email that the family said Basaldúa was being “harassed by her superiors,” which is why they sought advice and guidance.
“Our family wants to make sure that women serving in the United States Military can be safe and secure,” Basaldúa’s family said in a statement via Pink Berets. “America cannot be protected by soldiers who are victims of heinous crimes. The family calls for support and a formal investigation into Ana’s death.”
Fort Hood said in a news release that the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, known as CID, is collecting evidence and investigating the harassment claims.
“Army CID will continue to conduct a thorough investigation and gather all the evidence and facts to make sure they find out exactly what happened,” Fort Hood said in a news release. “Information related to any potential harassment will be fully addressed and investigated.”
Col. Christopher Dempsey, commander of 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, said in a news release that the Army remains in contact with the family throughout the investigation.
“Our hearts and thoughts go out to Ana’s family, friends and colleagues,” Dempsey said. “We have been in constant contact with both parents … and will continue to keep them informed.”
The proximity of the deaths of Basaldúa and Guillén, only three years apart, prompted immediate concern among legal experts and advocates about what has been done to address the culture of sexual harassment, assault, and violence on Fort Hood, and whether far-reaching reforms in the Army have gone far enough.
Before Guillén’s death and disappearance, she told her family that she was being sexually harassed. Authorities alleged that Guillén was killed by Aaron David Robinson, a fellow soldier who committed suicide when police contacted him. The only person who faced charges in the murder was Cecily Aguilar, who authorities say was Robinson’s girlfriend. She pleaded guilty last November to charges related to helping to dismember and conceal Guillén’s body.
In the aftermath of Guillén’s death, the Army announced in July 2020 that the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee would investigate the climate and culture on base. The 136-page report issued a few months later noted 70 areas for improvement, from missing soldier policies to needed improvements to be made to Fort Hood’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Prevention and Response Program, known as SHARP.
Last year, on January 1, the “I am Vanessa Guillén Law” came into force under the National Defense Authorization Law. The provisions included leaving the option to prosecute sexual assault and harassment outside of a Service member’s chain of command, expanded protections against retaliation, and sentencing guidelines, among other reforms.
Mayra Guillén, Vanessa’s sister, said Wednesday on Twitter that she was aware of Basaldúa’s death and planned to be in contact with the family.
“I am aware of the death of Ana Basaldúa in Fort Hood, TX,” he wrote. “Soon I will talk to the family, it seems very sensitive to me to talk about something that I am not fully aware of yet and this is also very stimulating for me… I need to collect my thoughts and then I can share them.”
The death at Fort Hood on Monday returns to the national spotlight on a base that was right at the center of one of the Army’s biggest scandals in recent memory. Nerves are still on the surface after Guillén’s murder, which sparked a Netflix documentary last year.
Sean Timmons, the Texas-based managing partner of the Tully Rinckey law firm and a former general counsel for judges at Fort Hood, told Military.com in an interview Friday that he has firsthand experience watching base leadership elusive. liability for incompetence.
In part, that’s due to the sheer size of Fort Hood and its physical distance from Pentagon leadership, Timmons told Military.com.
“The culture at Fort Hood has been, for the last 25 years, a culture where the command feels immune from blame, immune from oversight, and immune from liability because they operate thousands of miles away from the Pentagon in a part of Texas where the local culture is very pro-military,” he said. “So no one questions what they do, and they feel above the law. You see that filter through the mistreatment of the soldiers.”
In addition, Timmons said the operating time at the base, home to the III Armored Corps and 1st Cavalry Division, coupled with a toxic environment among enlisted soldiers has led to disastrous results.
“Leadership has exhausted the operational pace well beyond the capacity they can handle, and that results in sleep deprivation and fatigue, which then results in poor judgment, poor decision making, and very, very results. very silly of a toxic environment for individual young soldiers,” he said. “And many young soldiers are considered to be tires; they are interchangeable. They come, they wear them, they wear them out to burst them and they replace them”.
The profound dysfunction at Fort Hood that led to Guillén’s murder was detailed in the review committee’s report. But widespread sexual assault and sexual harassment have been longstanding problems for the Department of Defense as a whole. For years you have tried to reduce incidents and increase reporting with little to no success.
A 2021 Pentagon report found that 29% of women and 7% of men experienced sexual harassment in the ranks, saying that “29% is an increase in prevalence and appears to be driven by women’s experiences.” enlisted and under 25 years of age.
Just last week, the Pentagon released findings on reported assaults at military service academies, which showed an overall 18% increase in reported assaults by students compared to the previous year.
Basaldúa’s family now has legal counsel, with the help of del Gaudio’s Pink Berets organization.
Del Gaudio told Military.com in an interview that he believes assaults and harassment within the ranks are particularly rampant at Fort Hood, and that accountability is not commensurate with the size of the base.
“For me personally, as an advocate, it’s a Fort Hood issue,” Del Gaudio said. “It’s very vast, it’s in the middle of nowhere, it has its own zip code. I mean, it’s huge… it’s just that, again, a lot of things are swept under the rug. Why isn’t there more responsibility for a position, a base, that size?
Del Gaudio said Basaldúa’s family first contacted Pink Berets in part because of her involvement in the documentary “I Am Vanessa Guillén” on Netflix. The organization’s director of operations said the similarities between the two incidents are alarming.
“What really got me is, again, a Latina in her 20s, that’s where it gets personal for me,” Del Gaudio told Military.com. “Ana, like Vanessa, always wanted to be a soldier. She always wanted to go into the Army. That was his goal.”