One dead soldier cleared of desertion, another found

A murdered soldier, Army Private Gregory Wedel-Morales, will have his record cleared of desertion and his family may now lay him to rest with full military honors.

Army Private Gregory Wedel-Morales

Meanwhile, the Bell County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the death of Private Mejhor Morta, 26, of Pensacola, Florida, who was found unresponsive July 17, in the area of Stillhouse Hollow Lake.

Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), met with Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy and two members of Congress — Rep. Sylvia Garcia and Rep. Gil Cisneros — to discuss the loss of Specialist Vanessa Guillen and issues raised because of the investigation.

Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen

Guillen was brutally murdered at the base and the military also suspects foul play in the unrelated death of Morales. The two victims were Army soldiers whose remains have been found near Fort Hood, a post located in Killeen, Texas that is named after Confederate General John Bell Hood.

The latest casualty, Morta, joined the Army in September 2019 and had been assigned since May to Fort Hood’s 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.

McCarthy said the Army will hire four civilian consultants to spend up to 10 days at Fort Hood reviewing historical data, such as command climate surveys, Inspector General reports, criminal/military justice reports and sexual harassment and sexual assault response program statistics, as well as conduct interviews with military and community members.

The purpose of the independent review is to determine whether the command climate and culture at Fort Hood, and the surrounding military community, reflects Army values, including respect, inclusiveness, and workplaces free from sexual harassment.

“LULAC thanks Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy for taking action just days after we met with him at the Pentagon,” said Garcia. “What happened to Gregory Morales should never happen to any soldier. He disappeared from Fort Hood two weeks before being honorably discharged after serving more than five years in the Army. Rather than conduct an immediate investigation into how or why he disappeared, as the family kept asking, the Army called him a deserter and never bothered to do more.”

The 24-year old soldier was last seen on the night of August 19.

When he didn’t report to duty the following day, he was placed on AWOL status, then declared a deserter a month later.

Ten months later, only after LULAC began demanding answers into his case and that of Vanessa Guillen, did military investigators intensify their efforts and find his remains on June 19 in a shallow grave not far from the base.

A week later, Vanessa Guillen’s remains were also found, following LULAC’s offer of a $25,000 reward.

Fort Hood officials named 20-year-old Specialist Aaron David Robinson as the main suspect in Guillen’s death, but the suspect killed himself as police closed in on him.

Cecily Aguilar, 22, faces one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence because the estranged wife of a former soldier at the base helped Robinson to dismember and bury Guillen.

Prosecutors say Aguilar allegedly confessed that Robinson sought her aid after he bludgeoned Guillen to death with a hammer in the armoury of the base.

“LULAC is glad that Gregory’s family can now have closure and is able to bury their son, a brave and faithful soldier, with full military honors as he deserved,” said Sindy Benavides, Chief Executive Officer. “What is as significant is that an important decision came out of our meeting with Secretary McCarthy… (to) help ensure that new protections are put in place for our sons and daughters at Fort Hood.”

“LULAC is making sure that Gregory and Vanessa’s deaths will not have been in vain and they will not be forgotten,” added Benavides.

LULAC is the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights volunteer-based organization that empowers Hispanic Americans and builds strong Latino communities.

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