Advocates want to expand, protect vandalized mural of slain soldier

by Vern Evans

Advocates are raising funds to protect and expand a vandalized mural outside of Fort Cavazos, Texas, of Spc. Vanessa Guillén to honor another service member whose death also led to fundamental changes in the military.

After Guillén was killed in 2020, her death ignited conversations about women speaking out about sexual abuse in the military.

The back of the memorial, which previously was left blank for people to sign with messages of respect, was graffitied earlier this month, a community organizer from a group that helps preserve it told Military Times.

“As a military person driving through there, Vanessa is their battle buddy,” AnaLuisa Carrillo-Tapia, from the civil rights group League of United Latin American Citizens, LULAC, said. “What she went through, helped bring a lot of change and a lot of change that should have been approved a long time ago.”

This was not the first time the memorial was damaged, but now advocates are rallying behind an effort to turn the faded, unused space on the back into a mural for a sailor whose death also helped lead to systemic shifts in the armed forces, as a reminder to troops that resources exist to aid them in their various struggles.

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Caserta, who died by suicide in 2018, serves as the namesake of a law implemented last year that streamlines the process for service members across the armed forces to request mental health care services, or to seek confidential assistance for other reasons.

The Brandon Caserta Foundation, in partnership with LULAC, recently launched a GoFundMe page in an effort to sponsor the costs associated with adding a mural of him in uniform to the reverse side of Guillén’s, leaving the original — which was initially painted in 2020 — still intact.

“Putting a mural there will help get awareness and the word out,” Patrick Caserta, the sailor’s father, told Military Times, emphasizing that the art installation will shed light for troops at a populous base on the available means to combat suicide, sexual harassment and other issues that the laws established in honor of his son and Guillén address.

In addition to paying for equipment and artist fees, the kickstart project plans to use revenue earned in the campaign to purchase additional lighting to deter vandalism.

As of Friday morning, the GoFundMe had raised a few hundred dollars toward its $10,000 goal. Caserta’s parents shared that any extra funds raised would go toward future murals that they are looking to help sprout up across the country in areas with a high concentration of military personnel.

The goal is to paint the mural by June 25, the anniversary of Brandon’s death by suicide, Carrillo-Tapia said, but that one way or another it would happen.

“We see an opportunity to carry on the message,” she said. “You matter to us, we want to make sure that you’re taken care of.”

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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