Murals are popping up across the country to honor Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén, who went missing in April while stationed at Fort Hood. Her dismembered remains were later found in June.
Now, El Paso, home to a military base of its own, has a mural dedicated to Guillén.
“All I did was ask my community for help and I got it,” artist Gabriel Vasquez said.
Vasquez, a self-titled spray paint technician, had posted on his social media accounts that he was looking for a wall in El Paso where he could paint a mural in honor of Guillén. The founder and executive director of Veterans Non Profit, Stephen Mills, provided an exterior wall of its office to Vasquez.
“We just want to honor Specialist Guillen’s service to our country at the same time as bringing awareness to an issue that is much more prevalent than the Army or any of the branches of services would have you believe,” Mills said.
Guillén’s family says she was a victim of sexual harassment and has called for a congressional investigation into her death. The fellow soldier accused of killing Guillén took his own life and his girlfriend has been charged with assisting his efforts to hide the crime.
“Sexual harassment in the military and military sexual trauma is all too prevalent, it’s not talked about enough and we want to draw attention to the problem and be part of looking for a solution if we can,” Mills said.
Veterans Non Profit provides various services to low-income veterans and their families. Eight months ago, Mills established a peer-to-peer support group for victims of military sexual trauma.
Samantha, who asked that her real name not be used to protect her identity, attends those support group meetings.
“I myself was sexually assaulted in Iraq,” Samantha said. “My chain of command refused to do anything. I was told it would bring down morale and they swept it under the rug.”
Now, with the help of the support group at Veterans Non Profit, Samantha says she’s started to heal more than 10 years since the rape.
“With these group of women I feel like I finally have that camaraderie and I know they feel the same. Being able to just be yourself and talk about it. It’s like a giant weight lifted off your shoulders and hear other women share their experiences. You all cry together, of course,” Samantha said.
Samantha said stories like Guillén’s aren’t at all uncommon in the armed forces. That’s why she believes it’s important to have a mural of Guillén so close to Fort Bliss, just one mile from the Cassidy Gate entrance to the military base.
“Women that are veterans or active duty, they need somewhere to talk to somebody. You can’t just live with it inside you, you need to be able to talk to somebody that understands, someone that’s not going to judge you, someone that’s not going to victim shame,” Samantha said.
Vasquez has not yet completed the mural. He has taken on the project unpaid and plans to finish it this weekend.
“I just hope that when her family sees it they’re happy with it,” Vasquez said.
The mural is at Veterans Non Profit, 4317 Dyer St.
Cover photo: Artist Gabriel Vasquez has begun to paint a mural of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén at the Veterans Non Profit office. Guillén was stationed at Fort Hood when she went missing in April. Her remains were found in June. (Claudia Tristán/El Paso Matters)