A U.S. Congresswoman has confirmed the death of one of the nine soldiers involved in a training accident Thursday.
“Rae’Laurin Gates joined the Army just 6 months ago and lost her life in the tragedy at Fort Hood yesterday,” said Renee Ellmers in a post Friday. “This is a heartbreaking reminder of the sacrifices made by service members and their families, both abroad and during training. I will always remember her bright smile and eagerness to help others.”
Ellmers, Republican for North Carolina’s second district, said Gates was a close neighbor and childhood friend of her son.
Several other friends and family members have made posts asking for prayers for Gates’ family.
According to a Facebook page that appears to belong to Gates, she was serving as a motor transportation operator in the Army.
On Thursday, Fort Hood officials said the soldiers were part of the 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
During a news conference Friday evening, Army officials confirmed nine of the 12 soldiers involved in a training exercise with a light medium tactical vehicle near Owl Creek were dead.
Fort Hood has not released any names of soldiers associated with the accident.
The three surviving soldiers who were treated for injuries during a training accident were released from Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center to be with their families and were cleared to return to duty, said Maj. Gen. John Uberti, Fort Hood deputy commander, on Friday.
“Again, I’d like to offer my heartfelt and sincerest condolences to the family and friends who have lost one of their loved ones,” Uberti said.
During a news conference Friday morning, Chris Haug, III Corps media relations chief, said the soldiers were training on the range Thursday with convoy operations and were already trained on how to operate the vehicle.
“It’s a situation where the rain had come,” Haug said. “The water was rising quickly, and we were in the process at the moment of the event of closing the roads.”
Spokesman Tyler Broadway said: “The vehicle became stuck.”
The Army has declined to say what happened to the truck after that as it is part of the investigation.
Officials said they rescued three people from the water.
One of those officials was Jeff Mincy, chief of EMS for Coryell County, who said he helped transport the three injured to Coryell Memorial Hospital.
“It was flowing pretty fast,” Mincy said of Owl Creek in the first few moments after his arrival on the scene. “I can’t estimate how fast it was flowing, but it was faster than I would have felt comfortable putting anything into the water. When we did find the vehicle, we could see the tires sticking up out of the water, so in that position where the vehicle settled, it had to have been about eight feet deep.”
Although Mincy did not witness the event, he said it appeared as though the truck was pushed off the road by the fast-moving water.
Whether the soldiers in the vehicle saw the rushing water and how long they were in the water is under investigation, Haug said.
It was in a designated low-water crossing when they were going across, he said.
“They were out on the range,” Haug said. “They regulate pass-through based on weather conditions like this. This was a tactical vehicle, and at the time they were in a proper place, for what they were training. It’s just an unfortunate accident that occurred quickly.”
Investigators are trying to determine more details, such as whether the soldiers were checking on whether roads were passable or were merely training, Haug said.
“I don’t have that detail — that’s what the investigators do,” he said.
Haug said names are released 24 hours after all next of kin have been notified, and “that has not occurred yet.”
Maj. Gen John Uberti, III Corps, commander, thanked all emergency services who are involved in the search and thanked the community for support, thoughts and prayers.
“They will be needed in the tough days ahead,” Uberti said. “As you’re all aware, this tragedy extends well beyond Fort Hood. And the outpouring of support from around the country is sincerely appreciated.”
He said more than 170 emergency services professionals from around the state and community were at Fort Hood to assist soldiers and emergency service personnel in rescue and recovery.
Officials continue to notify family members and care for soldiers who lost one of their teammates, Uberti said.
In a statement Saturday, U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, said he and his wife continue to pray for the families, soldiers and Fort Hood family.
“The Great Place has suffered a devastating loss,” Carter said. “The men and women at Fort Hood are truly a blessing to our great nation, and I know our military is resilient and strong. This tragedy illuminates the inherent risks our soldiers take every day, outside of the spotlight, day in and day out, across our country in preparation for war. I am honored to call the men and women at Fort Hood my neighbor. God bless their memory, God bless their families, and God bless our country.”
Mayor Jose Segarra ordered city of Killeen flags to half-staff in honor of the soldiers, starting Sunday.
“In times of tragedy, the bond between city and fort is ever present, and we stand ready to assist in the days to come,” Segarra said Friday.
Clay Thorp contributed to this report.
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