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Military & Veterans' Issues

San Antonio Convoy Honors Vanessa Guillen As Women Share Memories Of Assault

Hundreds of people participated in a unique rally for slain Army soldier Vanessa Guillen on Saturday. A convoy of automobiles drove from Gustafson Stadium to Cafe Azteca, where a memorial to the Fort Hood specialist was prepared.

Sarah, who declined to give her last name to TPR, was a specialist in the Army:

"So I have different stories about things that were written on my car that I experienced whilst I was in the military about sexual harassment," she explained. "Times where I was almost raped by lieutenants and sergeants and stuff and just different stories that hit. And like I told my mom, there's more stories but I don't have enough windows to cover those stories."

She said none of her military friends believed her when she told them about some of the assaults, even after one of them walked in on a soldier she said was trying to rape her. So she kept quiet about it for years and only just told her family about her experiences a few days ago. She said she doesn’t think change can happen unless people like her speak up.

Christina and Miguel Lara were wearing Vanessa Guillen T-shirts as they stood in the back of their red pickup truck waiting for the convoy to get underway.

They have a daughter in the Navy and said it was important for them to show the Guillen family the kind of support they would want if something happened to their own daughter.

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Credit Jolene Almendarez | Texas Public Radio

The Laras were concerned when she joined because they’d heard for years that women were being sexually harassed and assaulted in the military. They said their daughter hasn’t reported any incidents to them but they both agree that an outside agency should be investigating sex crimes in the military.

"We always need outside people looking in," Miguel Lara said. "Because the ones inside will always cover. They always will. It’s been happening for years. I feel bad for the ladies that went through it and didn’t get heard. And I feel that’s the best solution."

The event began under a sparkling clear blue sky. Some automobiles were decorated with balloons. Many had messages of support or the hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen written on windows.

But most striking were the cars that carried on their windows the memories of betrayal, assault and lack of support servicewomen experienced in the military.

For example, on one truck window a woman wrote, "Hey 1SG. Remember all the comments about my ass and the things you would do to it? Remember ordering me to go up the stairs first to enjoy the view."

The Facebook event page explained that the event was meant to honor "SPC Vanessa Guillen and the many service members that have suffered from sexual assault/harassment!"

In order to maintain a safe distance, participants stayed in their cars and then slowly drive past the Guillen memorial.

"Flowers, Flags, Signs, etc will be accepted to add to the memorial," the organizers said. "Let’s show the Guillen Family that we stand with them to mourn Vanessa and demand her justice."

Around 10:30 a.m., hundreds of motorcyclists led the convoy on a 14-mile ride to Cafe Azteca, backing up traffic on the highway as people honked to show support.

Guillen was missing from Fort Hood for about 10 weeks before her mutilated body was found near the Leon River. The military says Specialist Aaron David Robinson killed her with a hammer at the base and convinced his girlfriend Cecily Aguilar to help him hide Guillen's body.

Guillen's family says she was sexually harassed by Robinson in the weeks leading up to her murder, but the Army says they've found no proof of that accusation.

The Army announced on Friday, July 10, that it would hire four civilian consultants to review the climate at Fort Hood and determine if it meets Army standards.

Officials said the independent review came as a direct result of concerns from Guillen’s family, Congress, and various Hispanic advocacy groups.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated in which military branch Sarah served. She was in the Army.

Jolene Almendarez can be reached at JoleneAlmendarez@gmail.com and on Twitter at @jalmendarez57.

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