One week after the remains of Pvt. Gregory Morales were found in Killeen, his mother, Kim Wedel, is hoping to have his status changed by the Army.
Morales disappeared in August 2019, only a few weeks before he was supposed to leave the Army.
“He had told me Sept. 10 was kind of the target date for him to be discharged,” Wedel said in a phone interview Friday.
On Sept. 19, 2019, the Army officially changed his status to “deserter,” and his name still appears on the Army’s deserter list, which was last updated June 15. There are more than 1,000 soldiers on that list, available at http://fugitives.army.mil/deserters.aspx.
“I grew up in a military family, so I understand the protocol, and I understand that they were just following the rules of what they have to do,” Wedel said when she found out about his deserter status. “What bothered me, and really hurt the most, is that they just didn’t seem to care.”
Morales, who was 23 when he went missing, was a motor transport operator in the 1st Cavalry Division’s sustainment brigade, said Lt. Col. Christopher Brautigam, the division’s public affairs officer.
His mother said she knows he served in Korea and Kuwait during his time in the Army.
Brautigam confirmed his overseas tour to Kuwait, but he said it is not considered a "combat tour."
Active-duty service members receive $400,000 in life insurance, unless waived or reduced by the service member, as part of the Department of Defense’s Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) Program.
Coverage is forfeited if the service member is guilty of desertion, according to Chapter 47 of DoD’s Financial Management Regulation.
To Wedel’s knowledge, she said she believed her son’s beneficiary was his wife. She said changing his status isn’t about money.
“We just want to get him home and get him buried,” the mother said Friday.
His remains were found June 19 in the 3200 block of Florence Road in Killeen. Army Criminal Investigation Command, CID, contacted the Killeen Police Department about a tip it had received that morning.
Killeen Police Department is leading the death investigation, said Christopher Grey, chief of public affairs for CID.
If the Army changes his status, Wedel said, the family plans to have him buried at the Fort Gibson National Cemetery in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. In order to bury him at the military cemetery, Wedel said he would have to be in good standing with the Army and have received an honorable discharge.
“We just want him to have what he deserved and what he earned,” Wedel said.
If the Army does not change his status, she said he will likely be buried in Sapulpa, Oklahoma.
Brautigam said changes to Morales’ status would have to be done at the Army’s Human Resources Command in Fort Knox, Kentucky.
In order to do that, autopsy results will have to indicate a date, time and cause of death. After autopsy results are released, the Army could begin an administration investigation locally to determine his status based on date and time of death, Brautigam said.
Until medical examiners determine a date of death, it is currently listed as June 19, 2020. Foul play is suspected.
Brautigam issued a statement to address the situation.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of PV2 Gregory Morales,” Brautigam said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his Family, Friends and Fellow troopers as they grieve his passing. The unit is fully cooperating with the local authorities who are leading the investigation. We cannot take further action on his status until an autopsy is complete and the cause of death and the time of death are determined. Unit leadership is in contact with his Family and providing support, as permitted by Army policy, during this difficult time. We will remain in contact with the Family and investigators throughout this process.”
Since Morales’ status is currently listed as deserter, the family will carry the burden for funeral costs.
“We’ll take care of it,” Wedel said. “It’s just the principle of the thing.”
A candlelight vigil and balloon release are scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday at Lions Club Park, 1700 E. Stan Schlueter Loop, in Killeen. Wedel said she is grateful that people will take their time to honor him.
“It means a lot to know that he’s not forgotten,” she said.