The widow of Staff Sgt. Miguel Angel Colonvazquez and other family members, are disputing the results of an investigation of the June 2, truck rollover accident that claimed the lives of eight soldiers and a West Point cadet at Fort Hood.
Ngo T. Pham, the widow of Colonvazquez, said her husband should not be held responsible for the accident and provided the Killeen Daily Herald with the Article 15-6 investigation results. The investigation blames the accident on a series of decisions made by Colonvazquez, a combat veteran who also died when the Army truck he and the others were in overturned while crossing Fort Hood’s Owl Creek during a flash flood.
Pham said she has waited for nearly a year for the results of the investigation, only to find out that it placed much of the blame on her husband.
“I just want everyone to know that his leadership failed him that day, and he served his country every day faithfully and loyally,” Pham said. “He was a staff sergeant, and he always did what the Army told him.”
Pham said her husband was not authorized to change the training plan and was following the orders he received, which called for taking the convoy over the creek crossing and not the bridge.
“He followed protocol, and they (leadership) failed him, and not only him but eight other soldiers,” Pham said.
Pham said her husband cared deeply for his soldiers, would never put their lives at risk and refutes the findings in the report.
“My husband and I always had barbecues for the soldiers. They were like our family,” Pham said. “My husband loved them.” Pham said she and her husband have three daughters.
Pham said her husband believed barbecues at their home in Killeen were instrumental in building camaraderie in order to build friendship and trust that would be needed later during deployments, a tradition she continues with the survivors and other soldiers since her husband died.
Pham said other soldiers involved with the training that day specifically told her that her husband tried to persuade his leadership to change the training because of the bad weather, but were instructed to proceed with the training as planned. Pham said she was informed by a soldier that this supervisor was still assigned to 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, the unit of the soldiers involved in the accident.
At 5:05 a.m. the day of the accident, Fort Hood’s Range Operations and the Installation Operations Center issued a low-water crossing report that said all the creeks, low-water crossings and mid-water crossings were off-limits to vehicle, according to the investigations officers report given to the family.
This information was not distributed to Colonvazquez’s unit, the report said.
At 8:47 a.m., the National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for the Fort Hood area, according to the report.
Colonvazquez’s unit left the battalion motor pool at 10:20 a.m., the report said.
The report stated Colonvazquez made three key decisions that led to the crash: The first decision was to lead the convoy off the paved road onto the tank trail. The second decision was to continue along the tank trail even after crossing the two large pools. The third decision was to try crossing Owl Creek at the low-water crossing point instead of using the nearby bridge. The use of the bridge, the investigation emphasized, “would have prevented the accident.”
The report also recommended that three leaders associated with the unit receive a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand for negligence of duties. Those leaders, whose names were blacked out in the report, were not with the convoy when the accident occurred because it was considered “Sergeant’s Time Training,” a chance for senior sergeants to do practical, hands-on training with junior enlisted soldiers.
The investigation cited the three leaders for not doing more ahead of time to reduce the risks to the patrol considering the weather conditions and the inexperience of the young soldiers.
Pham said she wants her husband’s leadership to admit they made a bad decision that caused the life of her husband and the other eight soldiers.
“At least I’m speaking up for my husband and not only for him, but the other soldiers and their families as well,” Pham said. “If his leaders can admit they made a piss-poor decision and cost the life of nine soldiers, it might bring other leaders to be more aware of the decisions they make and how it affects their soldiers lives.”