By Deliris Montañez
Unlike Vanessa Guillén, I’m still alive. And I wasn’t physically injured – only mentally and emotionally. But like Guillén and many other women serving in the Armed Forces, I was failed by the government that was supposed to protect and serve me as I protected and served our country.
I am Puerto Rican. Thirteen years ago, in 2007, I transferred from my Army unit after my superiors ignored complaints I’d made about other women in the unit being sexually harassed and assaulted by our brigade and battalion commanders. The perpetrators’ misbehavior didn’t stop after I left, and soon some of the victims outed them and forced them to resign.
In 2016, I returned to the same unit, and this time I took command. I then learned that the civilians working in the unit had been slacking on the job and then lying about it. I complained up the chain of command. As a result, my former commander, who was known for discriminating against minority women, encouraged and orchestrated the civilians to file inspector general complaints against me, full of false allegations.
I was wrongfully accused of misconduct, including treating soldiers without dignity and respect, and fraternizing. I tried to refute those accusations. A male service member committed perjury and said that I, a minority woman, had sexually assaulted him, when in fact he had sexually harassed and assaulted me.
The entire process was rigged; I didn’t have a chance. As a result of all these false accusations, my life has been pure hell. My name ended up in the National Crime Information Center, the United States’ central database for tracking crime-related information.
I’d never been arrested, but all administrative encounters with the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division are logged into the NCIC. People can be innocent yet be put into a database that implies they have a criminal record.
Mark T. Esper is currently the secretary of Defense. Back when he was the secretary of the Army, he destroyed my 29 honorable years in the military. He did this by directing that my name be removed from the promotion list for colonel. He also directed that I be separated from the Army Reserves. He believed a corrupt commander, who had the support of higher ups – even after I’d presented proof of that commander’s misbehavior.
To this day, I live with chronic recurrent post-traumatic stress disorder. But I’m still fighting for accountability, transparency, and justice – for all service members affected by the Department of Defense’s lack of due diligence. The DoD must be held accountable and legislation must be enacted.
One such piece of legislation is the Vanessa Guillén Bill. It addresses how sexual harassment and assault complaints are reported and tracked in the Armed Forces, and it could mandate independent investigations to demand accountability and transparency.
Another bill is the Military Justice Improvement Act, which changes how the military prosecutes sexual assault cases by moving the decision over whether to prosecute them to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors.
In addition, an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act calls for appointing a special inspector general to investigate racial disparities and lack of promotion for service members of color.
I encourage everyone to reach out to your congressional representatives, at www.congress.org.
These days, I constantly think about Spc. Vanessa Guillén. I pray for her family to find peace and the strength to fight this corrupt system. Vanessa’s memory will not die as long as all affected service members, and all citizens of this country, boldly and courageously fight for justice.
Deliris Montañez retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves.
Cover photo: Mourners created a memorial for Army Specialist Vanessa Guillén in Bell County, Texas. The memorial was built near to where her remains were found. (Claudia Tristán/El Paso Matters)