'Where is he?' asks family of Fort Bliss soldier missing for nearly two months
By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 15, 2020
AUSTIN, Texas – The family of a Fort Bliss soldier who hasn’t been heard from since he left the west Texas base in late July is asking for the public’s help in locating him, hoping he is still alive.
Shortly before Pvt. Richard Halliday disappeared, the 21-year-old was disciplined by his unit, the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command, for violating orders, his mother Patricia Halliday said she learned from Fort Bliss officials. He was last seen at the base by other soldiers on July 24.
Base officials contend Richard Halliday left Fort Bliss on his own and is a deserter, though the soldier’s family believes his disappearance could have been avoided had they known he was having trouble adjusting after returning from a deployment to Qatar.
“We don’t want the Army to look bad, but where is he?” Patricia Halliday said from her home in Sarasota, Fla. She said she had only learned Aug. 28 that her son was a deserter after contacting his unit. She hadn’t heard from her son in more than a month.
Richard Halliday had been a top performer in basic training, Patricia Halliday said. But problems began in November after he returned from Qatar. Since her son’s disappearance, she said she has learned of the disciplinary action taken against Richard for behavior that included driving drunk when he was still younger than 21 and traveling across the border to Mexico, which soldiers are not authorized to do.
After 30 days of being AWOL, Halliday was labeled a deserter and dropped from the unit’s rolls, which is an administrative step to remove Halliday as a member of his unit, said Lt. Col. Allie Payne, spokeswoman for the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss, which is located in El Paso along U.S. border with Mexico. The move allows the unit to replace the missing soldier with another. For the soldier, it triggers a federal arrest warrant.
“During the two days after Pvt. Halliday fled from his escorts on July 24, his unit actively searched on post, notified all access points to Fort Bliss, contacted emergency rooms at local hospitals, notified on-post and community law enforcement, and called phone numbers on file for him,” Payne said.
Throughout the Army, there have been 820 AWOL cases this year, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Friday on the television news show 20/20. McCarthy was discussing the case of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen, who went missing in April from Fort Hood and was found dead more than two months later. She was killed by another soldier.
During the search for Guillen, the remains of another Fort Hood soldier were found, Pvt. Gregory Wedel-Morales. He went missing in August 2019 and was considered a deserter. After his body was found in a field in Killeen, local police now believe he died by homicide and the case is under investigation.
Wedel-Morales’s family had to fight to change the deserter designation in order to bury the soldier at a veterans cemetery.
Patricia Halliday said her son does not telephone or post to social media often, but typically checks in every couple of weeks. Had she known he was missing, she and her husband Robert Halliday, who served 30 years in the Army, would have been able to start looking for him sooner.
“We were not given that opportunity to work for free not only for the good of Richard, but for the unit, the good of the command, the good of the Army and the good of United States,” she said.
Fort Bliss said they did contact the family.
“Unit leaders made multiple attempts to contact Halliday's family throughout this process and are following existing Army regulations on soldiers who are in absent without leave and deserter status, Payne said.
“During the two days after Pvt. Halliday fled from his escorts on July 24, his unit actively searched on post, notified all access points to Fort Bliss, contacted emergency rooms at local hospitals, notified on-post and community law enforcement, and called phone numbers on file for him.”
Patricia Halliday admitted they frequently travel internationally, and it is possible that Army officials attempted to contact her about her son within the first day of his disappearance, as the Army regulation stipulates.
Now all appropriate federal agencies are aware of the arrest warrant and Halliday is considered a missing person, Payne said. A “Be-On-The-Lookout” alert was sent to Fort Bliss military police as well as base gate security and local law enforcement in the El Paso area.
Patricia Halliday said she believes the Qatar deployment coupled with measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus had a detrimental effect on her son’s well-being and emotional state. Because of travel restrictions, he was not allowed to attend his brother’s wedding and had been mostly confined to his barracks, she said.
“When you’re young and told to lockdown and that you can’t do anything ... you can only watch so much Netflix,” Patricia Halliday said.
The soldier always preferred to be out walking and exploring or playing basketball rather than indoor activities, she said.
The Hallidays said the Army seems uncaring. Patricia Halliday said she felt they likened her son to “an old shoe to throw out.”
Richard was adopted from Poland at age 5 along with his older brother, joining the Halliday’s two daughters in the Army family. His father was stationed in Germany for several years and Richard was primarily raised in Heidelberg, Patricia Halliday said. The family also visited relatives in Ireland quite frequently and Richard has citizenship there.
Patricia Halliday homeschooled the children and Richard decided while they were spending extended time in Korea that he wanted to join the Army. He enlisted in Korea and chose the field of air defense.
Now she struggles with the lost opportunity of trying to help Richard before he disappeared.
“If we had known, we would have moved heaven and earth to get there before he spiraled down,” Patricia said.
She said she is hoping for a law that provides a soldier optional paperwork to sign that waives some privacy restrictions and grants a commander permission to contact the soldier’s family in the event that the soldier shows a dramatic change in behavior or mental health.
“There has to be more family involvement. I know some families have problems, but there are so many good military families who support them 100%,” Patricia said. “I’m assuming he’s still alive, but he’s had [more than] 40 days to spiral down.”