FORT HOOD, Texas - Exactly one year after they last saw their Soldier, the family of Spc. Vanessa Guillén helped dedicate the Vanessa Guillén Gate in her memory here April 19.
The Guillén family was involved in the concept and design of the gate, including a site visit in November 2020. The gate is located at the intersection of Fort Hood Street and Rancier Road, and leads to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment area where Vanessa served.
“A lot of people are saying positive and negative stuff about the gate, myself as well. The negative side is that my sister was murdered here at Fort Hood,” Lupe Guillén, Vanessa’s younger sister, shared during a press conference following the dedication. “The positive side of this gate is to remember her name and to remind and reflect about what happened April 22.”
Vanessa was last seen on the morning of April 22, 2020. After more than two months, the search for Vanessa came to a tragic end on June 30, 2020, after her remains were found near the Leon River between Belton and Little River Academy. While the search for Vanessa was over, her tragedy continues to impact her loved ones, Fort Hood and the surrounding communities.
“I want current and future Soldiers to understand the impact of what we’re doing here today,” Lt. Gen. Pat White, III Corps and Fort Hood commanding general, said during the dedication ceremony. “It’s mostly so in two, three, four years, we haven’t forgotten what this is all about, what this moment is about in our history.”
The general invited the Guillén family up to unveil the new Vanessa Guillén Gate sign, which was approved by the family. Tears fell from the faces of the Guillén family as they read a plaque in honor of Vanessa to the right of the sign.
“What happened today, with the unveiling of the gate, gives us the opportunity for all of us to start healing and working together,” family attorney Natalie Khawam said during the press conference. “This gate is symbolic of history – history being made – not that we wanted this kind of history made, but God makes examples out of everyone and God chose Vanessa Guillén for a better future for every Soldier in our country.”
Since her untimely death, Vanessa has become a catalyst for cultural change at Fort Hood and across the Army. In the wake of the investigation, Fort Hood launched Operation People
First, a Soldier-focused initiative created to rebuild trust through action, which is designed to affect permanent change across the force.
Throughout III Corps and Fort Hood units, more than six million work-hours have been devoted to team-building and counseling activities. Fort Hood has also improved relations with local law enforcement, criminal-investigation procedures, and designed scenario-based training to reduce sexual harassment.
Wearing a teal-colored “I Am Vanessa Guillén” pin in honor of Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention Month, Lupe said she wanted people to remember that sexual harassment and assault is not just limited to women.
“It’s not only female Soldiers,” Lupe added. “It’s not only women, it’s also men.”
The nearly 4,000 troopers of the 3rd Cav. Regt. are completing a run to remember Vanessa this morning. The route will include the newly dedicated gate.
While the Guillén family begins to heal, White said Soldiers will not forget Vanessa’s impact on Fort Hood and the Army.
“The permanent gate makes it clear, we’re not going to forget Vanessa,” White said. “Her legacy is going to live on through this monument.”