Fort Hood names gate after slain Spc. Vanessa Guillen
By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 19, 2021
FORT HOOD, Texas — The Vanessa Guillen Gate at Fort Hood is a reminder to soldiers passing through to look out for one another, said Lupe Guillen, the younger sister of the Army specialist who was killed at the base one year ago this week.
When soldiers pass through the gate, she said she wants her sister’s name on the tan brick sign to “remind them that if they know someone who’s going through the same situation my sister went through to speak up, to tell someone.”
Fort Hood officials hosted a dedication ceremony Monday afternoon to unveil a gate in honor of Vanessa Guillen. The gate, one of 27 at Fort Hood, delivers drivers to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, where Guillen served as a small arms repairer.
Lupe Guillen said at the ceremony that the gate is at the same intersection, Fort Hood Street and Rancier Avenue in Killeen, where she, her family and their supporters stood during the summer in the heat and the rain, holding signs that said “Find Vanessa Guillen.”
It is also near where the 20-year-old Guillen died at the hands of a fellow soldier in an arms room. Her family said Guillen told them she was sexually harassed by Spc. Aaron Robinson, who is suspected of killing her with a hammer on April 22, 2020. He then buried her body near a river off base. After a more than two-month search for her, Guillen’s body was found and Robinson shot himself dead when confronted by local law enforcement in Killeen.
“But for me, I try to see things in a positive way. This gate will only [remind] all those soldiers who go in day and night that what happened shouldn't happen ever again,” said Mayra Guillen, Vanessa Guillen’s older sister.
In the year since Vanessa Guillen was killed, the Army has made changes to the sexual assault and harassment response program with more changes on the way, implemented a new missing persons policy, and is restructuring the Army Criminal Investigation Command, known as CID.
Her death also inspired the creation of an independent review committee to examine Fort Hood. It found soldiers at the base did not have confidence in the Army Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, known as SHARP. Army officials said Friday that they are in the process of overhauling the nearly 10-year-old program, but that SHARP must remain while the new program is created.
Despite these steps, the sisters said the only solution to make soldiers confident in reporting instances of sexual assault and harassment is to take the process outside of the chain of command. They support legislation, the I am Vanessa Guillen Act, which would establish independent investigators and an independent prosecutor within the military who would be responsible for handling sex offenses.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., introduced the bill last year and will reintroduce the bill next month, according to her office.
“The SHARP program will keep failing,” Lupe Guillen said. “It had to take my sister's life for us to realize the bigger issue. Sexual violence is not an issue, it's an epidemic inside the armed forces. She had to die, to be murdered and dismembered and burned in order for all of us here to realize that this was happening for decades.”
Speaking prior to Monday’s ceremony, Lt. Gen. Pat White, commander of III Corps and Fort Hood, also said the significance of the Vanessa Guillen Gate is to serve as a reminder to the 3,800 soldiers he estimated drive through it each day.
“Every soldier, especially specialist and private level, is a part of a very compressed and small team. The point is we should know every one of our teammates. We should know each other as much as you know a family member,” White said.
The plaque located at the gate features a photo of Guillen and a description of her military service, which began in 2018 with basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., and ended at Fort Hood, her first duty station.
“She was known for her discipline, physical fitness, technical expertise and professionalism. Her tragic loss on April 22, 2020 became a seminal event for the United States Army, resulting in significant institutional change,” the plaque states. “[The gate] stands as a constant reminder that America’s sons and daughters deserve our best leadership.”
Lt. Gen. Pat White, commander of III Corps and Fort Hood, said Monday that the renaming of a gate at the Texas Army base to honor Spc. Vanessa Guillen will remind soldiers that they should know every one of their teammates. Guillen was killed one year ago at the base by a fellow soldier.
ROSE L. THAYER/STARS AND STRIPES