An Army veteran, a local organization, and the Sanchez Ice House teamed up to create a mural in honor of two Army soldiers whose remains have recently been found near Fort Hood. Officials say Specialist Vanessa Guillen was brutally killed at the base and the military suspects foul play in the unrelated death of Gregory Morales.
Both of their portraits are now painted on a wall of the Sanchez Ice House #2, a bar frequented by military veterans and located less than two miles from Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.
It took a local artist, known as Ghost, about 35 hours over the course of a week-and-a-half to paint the mural. For him, it felt personal. He was stationed at Fort Hood for three years and was in the same unit as Guillen.
“So basically, when I heard the story, it obviously had a huge, huge impact on me. I have a daughter now, so it’s like, man I gotta think about all this stuff now,” he said.
Guillen’s family said she was sexually harassed in the weeks leading up to her disappearance, something the Army says they’ve found no proof of happening.
Ghost said he loved his time in the Army, but that doesn’t stop him from recognizing how it’s failed soldiers like Guillen and Morales
“Basically, this is the tip of the iceberg, I’ll say that, he said, “Unfortunately – it’s tragic and terrible and it’s atrocious and it shouldn’t happen – however, this is so common out at Fort Hood it’s ridiculous.”
He felt like he had to do his part in supporting the soldiers’ families and responded to a Facebook post by an organization called Circle of Arms. Larissa Martinez, founder of the organization and an Airforce veteran, helped lead the charge for the mural.
“When I heard about Vanessa Guillen and Gregory's story it just brought out some passion in me. Being a fellow veteran and also a survivor of military sexual trauma, I really just thought it was important that us, as a city, start advocating more and spreading more awareness and education,” she said.
There have been at least 50 people, easily, who've been to the mural this afternoon with flowers, signs, and to call for justice for the deceased soldiers. pic.twitter.com/UiKXmOACTV
— Jolene Almendarez (@jalmendarez57) July 19, 2020
Like many others, she said she’d support removing the chain of command from the reporting of sex crimes, something the #IAmVanessaGuillen bill is expected to address when it’s officially introduced on July 30.
“I definitely am in favor for that part of the bill because it is definitely intimidating to have to go through your chain of command, especially when you’re in fear of retaliation,” Martinez said.
Ghost agrees some of the institutionalized culture of the military must change to create a better and safer military experience for people.
During the unveiling of the mural, he stood near his red pickup truck, never moving too far away and often looking through the window into the backseat to check on his two-year-old daughter Xo.
He said he’d be proud if she told him someday that she wants to join the military, but he’ll plan to have an honest talk with her about what it’s like for women in the military. He has hopes, though, that the organization he loves so much can change before then.
“This is unifying the community, obviously, and changes will be made and it’s not going to be this way forever,” he said. “So just keep the faith.”
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