Family of soldier found dead at Fort Hood calls for investigation into her sexual harassment claims
Stars and Stripes March 16, 2023
AUSTIN, Texas — The family of a soldier found dead Monday at Fort Hood said they are asking for an investigation into her time at the Texas Army base because she told them she was sexually harassed there.
Pvt. Ana Fernanda Basaldua Ruiz, 20, of Long Beach, Calif., died at a work facility at the base after 15 months as a combat engineer with the 91st Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Cavalry Division, according to Fort Hood officials. The preliminary investigation has not found any foul play, base officials said Thursday.
Basaldua’s family has since enlisted support from the nonprofit veterans advocacy group The Pink Berets.
“Our family wants to ensure that women serving in the United States military can be safe and protected. The United States cannot be protected by soldiers who are victims of heinous crimes. The family is asking for support and a formal investigation into Ana’s death,” according to a statement from the group.
Lucy Del Gaudio, chief operating officer of The Pink Berets, said Thursday that she is working with the family to ensure that the case is being handled appropriately and the Army is responding to the family. They are also helping Basaldua’s family navigate Army terminology and processes that are not easily understood by civilians, she said.
“We want to make sure that Fort Hood is aware that they have a strong force behind them to make sure that we get the answers we need,” Del Gaudio said.
She also noted the similarities of Basaldua’s story to the case of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, who also served at Fort Hood.
Guillen, 20, disappeared during the workday on April 22, 2020. After more than two months, investigators found her body buried along a river miles from Fort Hood. Spc. Aaron Robinson, a fellow soldier her unit, is believed to have killed Guillen with a hammer in an arms room that he supervised. When confronted by local law enforcement July 1 in nearby Killeen, Robinson shot himself dead.
Guillen’s family said at the time that the soldier told them prior to her death that she was sexually harassed at Fort Hood.
An Army investigation later confirmed a noncommissioned officer in the 3rd Cavalry Regiment had harassed Guillen and nothing was done when she reported the incident to another leader.
Investigations also determined the Army bungled the Guillen case from the beginning, including in its communication to the family and the public about the search for the missing soldier, the criminal investigation process and that Robinson was able to escape from Fort Hood despite being under observation in a conference room.
Guillen’s family pushed for answers and change, which led Congress to pass sweeping military justice reform last year that is slowly being put into action.
The I Am Vanessa Guillen Foundation, which was formed in honor of the soldier, and Protect Our Defenders are other military justice advocacy groups working with Basaldua’s family, Del Gaudio said.
“It is meaningful for us to show them we will always, always work hard to find any answers, make an impact and drive momentum when we find that a soldier has been sexually harassed and a young soldier has passed under the Army's watch,” said Stephanie Gattas, founder of the Pink Berets.
Fort Hood said Thursday that the Army Criminal Investigation Division is continuing its investigation into Basaldua’s death and will gather evidence and facts to understand what happened.
“Information related to any possible harassment will be addressed and investigated fully,” Fort Hood said in a statement.
Allegations of harassment do not fall within criminal investigators purview. Instead, sexual harassment is investigated by an officer from outside the brigade in which it was reported.
Commanders of Basaldua’s unit said they are in constant contact with the family and are providing support and resources to those who knew the young soldier.
“Our hearts and thoughts go out to the family, friends and colleagues of Ana,” Col. Christopher Dempsey, commander of 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, said in a statement.