KILLEEN, Texas >> The U.S. Army is not publicly releasing its full investigation into a 2016 training session at a Texas military base that left nine people dead, arguing it has the right to protect privacy and not reveal its deliberations.
Eight soldiers and a West Point cadet died when their vehicle was swept into the rain-swollen Owl Creek on Fort Hood during a flash flood on June 2, 2016.
An internal investigation in the immediate wake of the deaths determined that decisions made by Staff Sgt. Miguel Angel Colonvazquez — who was among the dead — led to the accident at the sprawling Army post about 64 miles of Austin.
His widow and colleagues said he was just following orders.
“But it’s really not fair,” said Ngo T. Pham, Colonvazquez’s widow. “My family won’t have full closure. It’s not enough my husband made the ultimate sacrifice, now we’re having to deal with how the Army is being so secretive about the matter.”
The U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, which investigates major Army accidents, conducted a separate investigation. The Killeen Herald News made a Freedom of Information Act request for that accident report, which was provided in August 2017 but with 14 pages of redacted text.
Two years on, the Army still refuses to release the entire text, explain how the investigation was conducted or say who decided the training should go on despite a heavy storm.
Nicholas M. Satriano, the assistant to the Army’s General Counsel, justified the redactions to the newspaper in a letter dated Aug. 27, 2019.
“Here, we find that the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center’s redactions are justified by (Freedom of Information Act) Exemption 5, 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(5) which protects from disclosure finding, recommendations, analysis, and other materials that might reveal the deliberations of safety board members,” Satriano wrote.
Satriano also noted the agency can withhold information that would “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
The June 2016 incident was one of Fort Hood’s deadliest training sessions in modern history. Accident numbers had been rising even as the population of active-duty soldiers declined at the time.
Kameron Robinson was on the truck when it was swept into the rain-swollen creek and is one of three survivors. To him, the Army’s move not to release the full report means it’s not interested in exonerating Colonvazquez or shedding light on what transpired that day.
“This is the response I expected from them (the Army),” Robinson said. “At the end of the day, they’re only going to take care of the people they want to take care of. Everybody else is just another number to them.”