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navy personal

I Am Vanessa Guillen

In the early summer of 2018, I was deployed to the Middle East. It was my second deployment to this location, doing the same mission: conducting airborne surveillance in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. It was, truthfully, pretty uneventful. I remember reading a lot of books (the camp library was well-stocked and quiet, an introvert’s delight) and playing video games in the MWR (where the internet was better but we also got eaten alive by mosquitoes). But one particular situation will stay with me for the rest of my life.

About halfway through the deployment, someone realized that one of the magazines was missing a bullet – a single 9mm bullet. How long had it been missing? Whose responsibility was it: the flyers who carried the magazines in their vests, or the people whose job it was to maintain the ordinance? When was the last time all of the bullets had been accounted for?

We searched the plane all day, even after an 8+ hour flight. We looked through every station, every vest, every compartment. We looked behind panels and under seat cushions. We opened boxes and shook out emergency equipment. We did at all again and again and again. We took up floorboards and crawled around stacks of wiring and ventilation. We must have put flashlight beams on every surface of that plane, inside and out.

It was, of course, a completely futile effort – a literal needle in a haystack – but we kept at it for days, rotating groups every few hours, searching 24/7 without pause. We never found the missing bullet, but we sure tried.

What does this have to do with Vanessa Guillen?

Vanessa had been dealing with sexual harassment from someone in her chain of command, but resolved to handle it on her own. She went missing at the end of April. The Army didn’t offer a reward for information regarding her whereabouts until June. For what it’s worth, I’m willing to believe that the Army was doing their due diligence in the investigation – even purely for the sake of covering their own asses – but they must have done a very poor job of keeping the family appraised, because Vanessa’s family and friends unleashed a relentless social media campaign to draw attention to her disappearance. There is a history of Fort Hood not finding its missing soldiers. (WARNING: this article contains details of Vanessa’s gruesome death.)

But if Vanessa Guillen had been a single 9mm bullet, nobody would have gone home until she was found.