By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – The parents of Sgt. Lawrence Sprader Jr. are satisfied with the findings of a Fort Hood investigation into their son's death during a land navigation training course.
"I'm not angry at the Army, but angry at the individuals who caused his death," Larry Sprader, the sergeant's father and a former soldier, said Tuesday, four days after a briefing from post officials.
Sprader, a 24-year-old soldier in the 11th Military Police Battalion, Criminal Investigation Division, was participating in a land navigation exercise, part of the Noncommissioned Officer Academy's Warrior Leader Course, at a West Fort Hood training area on June 8 when he went missing. His body was found four days later after a massive and intensive air and ground search that covered 20,000 acres and involved more than 3,000 soldiers.
The course trains and prepares junior noncommissioned officers like Sprader to lead team-size groups of soldiers.
Col. Mack Huey, Fort Hood's deputy rear commander, announced Tuesday that all investigations are complete and "there were a combination of factors that led to this tragic loss of Sgt. Sprader's life."
Officials are taking administrative actions against soldiers from the academy, Huey said. Administrative action means anything from conducting a counseling session to handing out an Article 15, or discipline without a court-martial.
Huey would give no details as to the identities or how many soldiers were under question, but said no current judicial actions are being taken. However, he said that they are possible.
He also would not say "what the NCOs did or didn't do," but said Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, Fort Hood's senior mission commander, took two actions immediately following Sprader's death.
During the investigations, Hammond canceled future Warrior Leader Training Courses and suspended leadership at the academy pending investigation results. Those courses are still canceled, and Huey said they would probably re-start sometime in the fall after September.
The investigations evaluated the academy's curriculum, execution of training and events and circumstances leading up to and following Sprader's death, Huey said.
"Sgt. Sprader's tragic death was the result of a combination of factors," Huey said. "Those factors, which are within the control of Fort Hood officials, are being remedied at this time."
Fort Hood is implementing recommendations from the findings "to improve safety during land navigation training."
Reviewing, revising and updating the Noncommissioned Officer Academy's standard operating procedures.
Conducting a "comprehensive mission analysis" of land navigation exercises and testing.
Improving awareness of heath and weather factors.
Improving training on proper risk assessment to accommodate for weather conditions.
Improving planning for adequate and proper water sources for weather conditions.
Implementing a command inspection program by III Corps and Fort Hood with emphasis on safety and training management for the academy.
"While there is nothing that we can do to bring back Sgt. Sprader, it is our responsibility to ensure that his death must not be in vain," Huey said. "We owe it to the Sprader family and Sgt. Sprader's fellow soldiers to provide each soldier with the best training possible in an environment that is both realistic and safe."
Huey and three other Fort Hood officials traveled Saturday to brief Sprader's mother and father in their Virginia home. The Spraders were given more than 1,900 pages of documents regarding the investigation, Larry Sprader said.
"It's going to take a while to digest it," he said.
The colonel also discussed on Tuesday details of the investigation, including events surrounding Sprader's death.
The land navigation exercise consists of three parts: practical exercises one and two and a final test. Sprader located points during exercise one the morning of June 8 with no problems, Huey said. It was during the afternoon exercise two when Sprader went missing. That was the ninth day of a 15-day training session in which 317 other students participated. Officials know that Sprader found two of the four points during exercise two. He needed to find three to pass.
When it was discovered that he was missing, standard operating procedures went into place and other soldiers participating in the course began to search the area.
Fort Hood's Directorate of Emergency Services entered the picture, Huey said, and it "became a more deliberate search effort." Searchers found Sprader in a wooded area with "very dense undergrowth." Searchers were on their hands and knees, crawling through the area, Huey said, and they had to use chain saws to cut into the brush so Sprader's body could be retrieved.
An autopsy report, released on Aug. 2 by Bill Cooke, Bell County Justice of the Peace, indicated Sprader died as a result of dehydration and hyperthermia, or high body heat. Huey speculated that Sprader wandered into the thick underbrush after feeling symptoms of dehydration and hyperthermia.
Each soldier participating in the course had two 1-quart canteens, Huey said, and a "water buffalo" was on site before the exercise began. He declined to answer whether the canteens had water in them when Sprader was found.
"I don't really want to get into detail of that," he said.
There were multiple cases of heat-related injuries during that day's training, Huey said, and officials have found that similar incidents have occurred in the past, though none resulted in deaths.
Before the Sprader family received the briefing on Saturday, Larry Sprader questioned early reports that a soldier spoke by phone with Sprader about 5 p.m. on June 8 and he told that soldier he was fine and wanted to continue. Larry examined his son's cell phone records and said no calls were made after about 3 p.m.
Huey said that was what officials believed at the time.
Larry's questions were answered, Huey said, and he has no intentions of pursuing any further action. Larry agreed, but said, "This is a tragedy that should not have happened."
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at email@example.com or call (254) 501-7547