FORT HOOD — As 120 military academy cadets gathered Thursday to remember one of their own killed in a training accident, members of the 1st Cavalry Division continue to finalize a date to honor eight of their own.
The communities surrounding Fort Hood are mourning the loss of the cadet and soldiers who died when the Army truck they were riding in overturned in high water June 2. Condolences from federal, state and local political leaders continue to pour in to the Army post and to the soldiers’ unit — 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team — from Mayor Jose Segarra of Killeen to President Barack Obama.
The bodies of the nine soldiers were flown to Dover Air Force Base, Del. A spokeswoman confirmed they are still at the base being prepared for release to the families, but referred questions about services to Army Human Resources. The air base is home to the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs, which is the Department of Defense’s largest joint-service mortuary facility and the only one located in the continental United States, according to www.dover.af.mil/units.
Fort Hood Casualty and Mortuary Affairs is responsible for arranging services with the family, said Daniela Vestal, Army Human Resources Command spokeswoman. However, funeral service details have not yet been made available for the soldiers or the cadet.
Here is a look at the eight soldiers and one West Point cadet who died. The Herald has yet been able to obtain permission to run all of their photos.
Staff Sgt. Miguel Angel Colonvazquez
Colonvazquez was a native of Brooklyn, N.Y. The 38-year-old veteran of four combat deployments to the Middle East leaves behind a wife and four children, according to a GoFundMe page set up for Colonvazquez’s family by some of his brother’s friends.
Soldiers who formerly worked with Colonvazquez had no problem pitching in to help the family out.
“I served with (Staff Sgt.) Colonvazquez in 89th Trans in 2010 at Fort Eustis, Va. A stellar (noncommissioned officer) and great human being,” stated Anthony Joyce on the GoFundMe page. “He will be missed. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
After a lot of negative posts were written on the page, a friend of Colonvazquez named Dawn Hart said, “‘Kid Colon’ you will greatly be missed. As for those of you speaking about what his family will receive, who cares donate or don’t. However, the big picture is what they DON’T receive and that’s a good morning or good night from their daddy, or a date night with her husband after a long day ... Shame on you for even commenting and worse yet, shame on you for saying such a thing about a man who gave literally everything defending your ability to say such a thing.”
Spc. Christine Faith Armstrong
Armstrong, 27, of Twentynine Palms, Calif., entered active-duty military service in February 2014 as a motor transport operator.
She was born in Camp Lejeune, N.C., to a father who was a Marine, said her sister Tabatha Yeampierre in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
The sisters were “inseparable,” and they had both talked about joining the military together to carry on their father’s work, she said in the interview. Armstrong enlisted on her own at age 24.
“If I could make people see who she was, I’d want them to know how kind and generous and friendly and happy she was,” Yeampierre said, describing her sister as someone who “always tried to look after everyone around her” and who would always spend more time talking about people she was trying to help and their problems rather than her own.
Spc. Yingming Sun
Sun, 25, was a resident of Monterey Park, Calif., who was a heavy equipment driver and joined the military in March 2013. He was stationed at Fort Hood in August 2014.
His awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal, the Korea Defense Service Medal and the Overseas Service Ribbon. No family members have come forward so far to talk about the soldier.
Pfc. Brandon Austin Banner
Banner, 22, was from Milton, Fla.
In an interview for the Northwest Florida Daily News, R.L. Lewis, a funeral counselor at Trahan Funeral Home in Milton, said that Banner was a standout defensive end for the Milton High School football team. He graduated in 2013.
“He was born and raised in Milton, and comes from a good, community-minded family,” said Lewis, who also serves on the City Council, in the article. “I spoke with his aunt today, and she said the family is doing about as well as can be expected.”
Milton Councilman Alan Lowery also said in the article he was saddened to hear of the loss. “I didn’t know the family, but I sure hate to hear that,” he said.
Pfc. Zachery Nathaniel Fuller
Fuller, 23, of Palmetto, Fla., entered active-duty military service in November 2015 as a motor transport operator and was stationed at Fort Hood in April.
His cousin, Raekwon Butler, posted on Facebook to “Please keep the Butler and Fuller family in your prayers during this tough time. This was a shock to us all, and Zachary was one of those I always looked up to. He was always cool and calm no matter what.”
Pvt. Isaac Lee Deleon
DeLeon, 19, of San Angelo, about 180 miles west of Fort Hood, entered active-duty military service in November 2015 as a motor transport operator.
Fox News KXVA out of West Texas spoke with DeLeon’s fiance, Deja Lara, who said the military was Deleon’s calling.
“He loved going after school and just running and yelling at the boys to get it together. He could do pushups, so many. It was just insane. So he loved doing that, and that’s what he loved about the Army the most — waking up at 4:30 in the morning and doing P.T.,” Lara said in the interview.
The two met while they were both at Central High School — and she had different plans before DeLeon marched into her life.
“I’m not going to lie, I never wanted to marry into the military,” she said. “When I met Isaac, I just didn’t care anymore.”
Pvt. Eddy Raelaurin Gates
Gates, 20, of Dunn, N.C., entered active-duty military service in December 2015 as a motor transport operator.
“She put someone else before herself,” her father, Eddy Renard Gates, told CBS News correspondent David Begnaud in an interview. “She wanted to serve her country with a smile. She wanted to serve 20 years in the service.”
Gates was homecoming queen at Triton High School in Erwin, N.C., her father said. She is survived by her parents and her older brother and sister.
Pvt. Tysheena Lynette James
James, 21, a resident of Jersey City, N.J., had been stationed at Fort Hood only since April, her father said in an interview he did with the New York Daily Times.
“She more than liked it — she loved it,” James Hillird said in the interview, noting she would call him daily with updates on how her day went. “She was a sweetheart. She loved every moment of the service.”
James’ mother, Essie James, told the Daily News that it was about 2:25 a.m. Friday when Hillird woke her, telling her there were Army officials at their door.
“I already knew that there was something wrong,” she said. “I knew already when they came and they gave me the news. It’s overwhelming. I’m still in shock. It’s just a lot to deal with. She was my baby. She had so much to live for.”
Cadet Mitchell Alexander Winey
Winey, 21, of Chesterton, Ind., was expected to graduate from West Point with the Class of 2018.
Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., superintendent of the United States Military Academy, announced the death of the B Company, First Regiment cadet to the academy.
“Throughout his time here at the U.S. Military Academy, Cadet Winey was enormously proud to be a cadet. Mitchell was an exemplary cadet in academics, as an Engineering Management major, during company athletics and as a member of the Ski Patrol,” Caslen said in the release. “He was clearly a rising leader in his class and a friend to everyone who knew him. He internalized the ideals and values of West Point and exemplified them in all that he set out to do.”
According to a Chicago Post Tribune interview with Tim Winey, the cadet’s father, Winey decided in eighth grade he wanted to be a West Point cadet.
“Mitch came home one day and told us he was going to West Point, so we just bought him a book on how to prepare to apply to the school — and he did the rest,” his father said. “All of a sudden, we’re hearing these stories about all of the ways Mitch touched so many people’s lives.”