Previously, if a soldier didn’t report for duty, army officials would note their absence as “absent without leave” or “AWOL.”
Army officials announced last week that they would prioritize an action response to cases that involve missing soldiers. Previously, if a soldier didn’t report for duty, they would be listed as “absent without leave” or “AWOL.” However, now with developing changes within the army, and in the wake of murdered soldier Vanessa Guillén, the army will consider these soldiers as missing and will take immediate action to locate them.
“ln the coming weeks, HQDA (Headquarters, Department of the Army) will publish guidance on absent soldiers to clarify that when one of our teammates fails to report for duty, we will consider them missing and take immediate action to find them,” army officials said, according to an ABC News report.
In June, when officials were attempting to locate Guillén, by chance, they came across the remains of another soldier, Pvt. Gregory Wedel-Morales. Wedel-Morales had gone missing last year, but Fort Hood officials listed the young soldier as AWOL and never opted to look for him. The Army declared Wedel-Morales a deserter and even stripped him of status.
“The military failed him by not looking,” his mother, Kimberly Wedel, told The Washington Post. “They just assumed the worst and let it go.”
When his remains were found, he was reinstated into the army and was given a proper military burial.
Similar circumstances occurred when another Fort Hood soldier—Elder Fernandes—went missing and was found dead two weeks later.
“It’s really a mindset issue,” Gen. James McConville, the Army chief of staff, said last week, according to Stars and Stripes. “It could be a lot of reasons why the soldier is not present for duty, and, also, not on leave. And I think AWOL carries a connotation with it that we just don’t want for soldiers that are missing.”
McConville added that Guillén’s case “affected us all,” saying, “Quite frankly, we didn’t take care of her.”
This new missing policy is the latest change taking place within the military since the death of Guillén. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy has said various investigations were taking place to remedy the situation at Fort Hood, which has seen numerous suspicious deaths within the last year.
Last month, Democrat Congress members visited Fort Hood to experience the base for themselves and said the conditions there were “worse than they imagined.”
“I have never seen a location in worse shape or in greater need of an overhaul than Fort Hood,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) on Sept. 21.
She added, “After talking with service members of every rank and station, I have come away with more questions than answers and even more grave concerns about the health, welfare, and safety of the brave women and men who serve there.”