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When a soldier dies in the line of duty, military tradition is to honor them with a formal ceremony of burial. A flag is draped over a coffin, there are 21-gun salutes, and taps are blown that give the sadness a sound and emotional memory. There tend to be officers present who had command responsibility for the fallen soldier. Families are offered comfort and attempts are made to give context and meaning to the loss. There is an historic protocol that is an effort to provide understanding to the American culture that has relied on the service of citizens in uniform.
But Greg Abbott won’t even say their names.
Ten members of the Texas National Guard have died in the Texas governor’s multi-billion-dollar presidential campaign commercial called “Operation Lone Star,” and Abbott has offered them anonymity, not honor, for their deaths. Five of the dead have turned their own hand against themselves and committed suicide. Troops are increasingly overcome with an open-ended deployment that leaves them with no clues as to when they will return to their families, jobs, and normal lives. Those five found another way to end their angst.
Lucky for them, the governor and his wife are praying for them and their families.
“Cecilia and I are deeply saddened to hear of the tragic loss of a soldier with the Texas National Guard. Our hearts go out to the family and loved ones of the soldier,” Abbott said in a written public statement. “Texas Rangers are leading the investigation, as the Texas National Guard and Texas Department of Public Safety coordinate with local law enforcement.”
What’s to investigate? A 20-year-old Texan, Specialist Demtrio Torres, used his service weapon to kill himself. The Texas Military Department took two days to release his name, but no hometown was immediately or publicly associated with the soldier’s death, which is probably by design to mitigate follow up news reports. Abbott has not spoken the soldier’s name, nor has he mentioned the four previous suicides, or any of the other accidental deaths. In fact, Abbott refused to even confirm that Torres was deployed to Operation Lone Star, undoubtedly hoping the public might assume he was on some other mission.
Unless Torres left a note, we can only make assumptions about his actions. There are, however, rational explanations for what prompts such behavior. Davis Winkie of the Military Times, which conducted the first journalistic investigation of the interminable border deployment of the Texas National Guard, described for Austin TV station KXAN causes of suicide for soldiers on Abbott’s mission, which, it should be noted, continues to exist.
“For somebody who hasn’t had to put down their civilian life on that kind of notice, to go on a mission where you don’t know how long you’re going to be there. You don’t know if you’re going to be allowed to see your family regularly — that’s a really significant stressor,” Winkie said.
Governor Abbott continues to say he is “deeply saddened,” but his emotional reaction is not deep enough to order state flags lowered to half-staff, nor to attend a grave side service to honor the lost life of a young man. Instead, he presses forward by spending billions of tax dollars to militarize the border and perpetuate the conditions that can result in more suicides and accidental deaths. The soldiers dying are political casualties whose lives were lost, not in the service of their state or nation, but in the fires of Abbott’s burning ambition for political gain.
The four other deaths, like Torres’, were all from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Pfc. Joshua Cortez, who died almost exactly a year ago when he was denied a waiver of his involuntary call up. Cortez had been offered what he described as a “lifetime job” with one of the nation’s largest insurance companies. According to the Army Times, his senior commander refused to relieve Cortez of his duty, and 36 hours later he was found dead inside of his car in a parking lot in Northwest San Antonio.
The first casualty was Sgt. Jose L. De Hoyos, discovered dead by self-inflicted gunshot wound in Laredo. He had been a member of the 949th Brigade Support Battalion’s headquarters company. First Sgt. John Crutcher, meanwhile, had been on a temporary hardship waiver to help his wife deal with a disabled brother who was in a wheelchair. She had undergone surgery and was incapacitated, and Crutcher was seeking an extension on his waiver until the household situation could be stabilized. Overcome when it was denied, the top NCO for B Company, 3rd Battalion, 144th infantry, killed himself. One of the platoon leaders under Crutcher’s command, 1st Lieutenant Charles Williams, was on a pass a month later when his death at home was ruled a suicide. Four guard suicides occurred in an eight-week cluster.
And then there was the fifth by Demetrio Torres.
They are nameless casualties to Greg Abbott. He has neither spoken their names publicly nor thanked their families in any open manner for their service and sacrifice. The Texas governor is hoping to continue running a military operation without negative political impacts, and he is getting away with it as Texans die while being used as tools to elevate his craven ambitions, which is a delusion that he might one day become president.
The other casualties occurred when a soldier cleaning a gun had it accidentally discharge and kill a fellow guard member; there was a fatal motorcycle accident in Laredo, a blood clot that killed a service member after a long security posting in a record heat wave, and a drowning when Spc. Bishop Evans jumped into the Rio Grande to save two drowning immigrants. His death was largely a consequence of Abbott’s failure to provide the leadership to properly equip the people he has put at risk. Evans had no flotation device.
Evans can fairly be described as a victim of a hastily planned deployment and inexplicably delayed requisitions. It is not unusual for the river to claim a few dozen lives of people each month, swimming over from the Mexican side, unaware of the water’s depth or the potential power of the current. Guardsmen were supposed to be provided with ropes and ring buoys to save people in trouble, and themselves, but they had been delayed and were not yet supplied when Evans, an artilleryman, jumped into the Rio Grande to save two lives. Instead, he drowned, and his body was not recovered until four days later downstream. According to the Army Times, the essential equipment for water safety was not requested until 11 months after the launch of Operation Lone Star. Prior to the Evans tragedy, no flotation devices or water rescue training were offered to troops, even though they were put in a position of having to almost daily rescue people from the river.
Has anyone ever heard the governor speak the name of Bishop Evans? Or 1st Sgt. John Crutcher? Sergeant Jose L. De Hoyos, maybe? Pfc. Joshua Cortez? Any of the ten fatalities in the 10,000 troops he has sent to the border? Did we miss a news release he dispatched each time to honor and remember the fallen? Of course not, they are only statistics to Abbott, not names or people with families who loved and dreamed of a future away from a dangerous and endless mission that has no real purpose or accomplishments to justify its existence.
Texas troops, however, are not the only souls lost to anonymous death as a consequence of the militarization of the Mexican frontier. A complaint to the Department of Justice from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) cites a study that indicates 31 people have died because of high-speed pursuits that began with racial profiling by the Department of Public Safety. The incidents, reported in an analysis from Tarleton State University in Stephenville, also accounted for 71 injuries. In one case during the first month of the operation, eight people in one vehicle died while being chased by DPS. The report said researchers found "a reasonable probability that racial profiling is a significant contributor to" disparities in DPS traffic stops between Latino and white drivers.
Which means if your skin is brown and you live on the border, you are automatically a suspect, and that is the vast majority of the population.
None of those factors are going to change soon. Abbott continues to play shell games with state and federal taxpayer money to pay for his border boondoggle. In fact, the CARES Act, providing federal money to states to fight the pandemic, and other congressional funding to help communities during the virus crisis, totaled $65 billion dollars into Texas coffers. Greg Abbott couldn’t resist using that money to pay state trooper salaries and to send troops and military equipment to the border and start construction of his pathetic little wall with the 700-mile gap on one side. By declaring the border as a disaster area, the governor authorized himself to take general revenue funds from state agencies and replace them with the COVID dollars from Washington. Each agency would have hundreds of millions more money in its accounts had Abbott not transferred their money out to the border and replaced it with COVID cash.
The Treasury Department was not oblivious to what the Texas dumb slinger was doing. It has launched an investigation into how the governor has used federal funds to pay for Operation Lone Star. Officials in Washington say they have not ruled out recoupment of the cash, though it seems unlikely they can claw back hundreds of millions already expended on soldier and lawman salaries in a force of 10,000 uniformed operatives running the border. Abbott is likely to give not a jolly damn about what Washington wants if the legislature, the Lt. Governor, and House Speaker continue to let him run the state like his personal province.
The sustaining tragedy of financial abuse and the death of innocents will continue on the border until Abbott is deposed by voters. His free bus rides that he offers to immigrants to the interior of the U.S. will only increase the flow of humanity to the Mexican frontier and make more dangerous the tasks of the border patrol and the Texas National Guard. His poor decisions compound the crisis, but he ignores the losses. The victims of deadly DPS pursuit are treated as unknowns, nothing more than potential deportees, and they are replaced by others drawn to America. The dead soldiers, who had been sent to the border by Abbott, are not honored or recognized for their sacrifices. The cowardly governor doesn’t even bother to say their names. He worries not about soldiers’ lives and their families.
His only concern is Election Day.