HOUSTON - Texas Equusearch teams started their search Saturday for Sgt. Elder Fernandes, a Fort Hood soldier missing since Monday.
The search is happening just a week after the burial of Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillen, and their disappearances are raising questions about the military's handling of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Groups led by the Gathering of Eagles Veterans Organization joined together at the Esplanade on Navigation Boulevard to pay homage to Vanessa Guillen.
The speeches made during the ceremony expanded the call for accountability in events leading up to her murder.
“Let them know we won’t allow this to be unsettled and make sure there are changes made for our future veterans,” says Vicki Cruz, Chaplain of the American GI Forum and Founder of Mission One International.
Guillen's family says she complained of sexual harassment before her murder.
At Saturday’s event, one army veteran told FOX 26 that he was violated too.
“I’ve never told this to anybody; I am one of the victims. I was molested by my drill sergeant,” says Jesse Saldana, Jr.
Saldana says he was assaulted twice while serving in the late 1970’s and that he didn’t report the incidents out of fear.
“Men don’t report it because we’re supposed to be men,” he says.
Meanwhile, the search for Fernandes took place in Killeen where he was reportedly dropped off by his staff sergeant. According to Fort Hood officials, Fernandes was the victim in an open investigation of abusive sexual contact.
In a Department of Defense briefing released in April, sexual assault reports by service members increased by three percent in 2019. They include an increase in reports from men where cases involved more violence and hazing than those reported by women.
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The DoD says its Prevention Plan of Action includes correcting a problematic sexual assault culture and making it easier for victims to come forward.
Saldana says his experience left him with PTSD and some regrets about not speaking out, but Guillen's case and therapy are giving him a new voice.
“I try to forget, but it’s always in the back of my mind,” he says. “The Army’s been hiding everything for the longest time. It’s time for us to bring them out.”
Although their physical battles may be over, he says veterans are in an ongoing war against sexual crimes. He believes it's up to them to hold the military accountable by coming together and demanding change.