Hispanic state lawmakers call for review following deaths of airman at Grand Forks, soldier at Fort Hood

Airman 1st Class Natasha Aposhian, left, and Spc. Vanessa Guillen.

By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 10, 2020

AUSTIN, Texas — More than 400 Hispanic state lawmakers have demanded an investigation into the safety of women serving in the military, citing two on-base killings that they believe need further review of how they were handled and the related policies that could prevent more deaths.

In a letter sent Monday by the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, its 430 members ask Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy to “address the continued lack of safety experiences by female enlisted service members.” The letter also was sent to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.

The deaths of Airman 1st Class Natasha Aposhian at Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., and Spc. Vanessa Guillen at Fort Hood, Texas, “demonstrate a continuing culture where enlisted women — especially enlisted women of color – have more to fear from those with whom they serve than from this nation’s enemies,” according to the letter. “We must learn from these tragedies.”

Aposhian, a 21-year-old Phoenix native, died from a gunshot wound in the early morning hours of June 1 in a base dormitory. While the Air Force Office of Special Investigations has released few details about the incident, the letter states Aposhian was killed by a fellow airman. Airman 1st Class Julian Carlos Torres, 20, also died in the incident.

“It appears this was a case of domestic violence, though the Air Force has yet to confirm whether the perpetrator committed suicide,” according to the letter.

Guillen, a 20-year-old from Houston, was also killed on base by another soldier, according to federal court documents. On April 22, Guillen was struck and killed with a hammer in an arms room by Spc. Aaron Robinson, who then moved her body off the base to a secluded area along a river, where he dismembered and attempted to burn her body before burying it. When approached by civilian law enforcement more than two months later, Robinson shot himself in the head and died. A civilian, Cecily Aguilar, is in federal custody and accused of conspiracy to tamper with evidence.

“The deaths of these two women cannot go unnoticed and they cannot go without necessary reform within the military system,” Arizona state Rep. César Chávez, a Democrat from Phoenix, said Monday during a news conference. “Why did the killers allegedly have firearms when they were not supposed to? Where was the accountability on behalf of their superiors and what is our military doing to provide mental health care to our soldiers? These are a few of the many questions that we will be fighting and advocating to get an answer to.”

The letter joins a growing call for investigations and reforms since the Army confirmed Monday that Guillen’s remains were those found along the river. Nearly 90 members of Congress have asked the Defense Department Office of Inspector General for a review of Guillen’s case. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., an Army veteran, has asked for the Government Accountability Office to review the Army’s sexual harassment and assault program and the Army to review its policies regarding missing persons.

A letter written by 20 female veterans has gained more than 3,000 signatures from their peers and asks defense and congressional leaders to review what happened, the firing of all in Guillen’s chain of command and the closure of Fort Hood. They called for an enlistment boycott until these demands are met.

Monday’s letter from the state legislators is the first to include Aposhian by name.

“I will knock on every door of Congress and meet with who I have to meet with to pay the honorable respect to Natasha Aposhian and Vanessa Guillen and any other individuals facing these despicable actions,” Chávez said.

Twitter: @Rose_Lori

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