The 100th tree was planted today in Poncitlán Square in the City of Palmdale to honor of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen, believed to have been killed at the hands of another soldier while stationed at Fort Hood, Texas in April of this year.
Organized by Miss Antelope Valley 2020 Maria Kyupelyan, a Drake elm tree was planted in the shadow of the Poncitlán Square flag pole with more than three dozen people in attendance, including veterans groups Antelope Valley Vets 4 Veterans and Coffee 4 Vets, as well as Mayor Steve Hofbauer, Councilmembers Laura Bettencourt and Austin Bishop, and City Manager J.J. Murphy.
Kyupelyan reached out to the City to coordinate the event, working closely with Superintendent of Urban Grounds and Green Spaces Steve Montenegro, whose team facilitated the planting.
“Since her death, I have felt compelled to speak up for her, and to call on our U.S. Government to do more to protect women and men serving in our military from sexual assault, abuse, and harassment,” said Kyupelyan. “The death of Vanessa Guillen should never have happened.”
On Tuesday Oct. 20, the U.S. Army officials at Fort Hood, Texas, said that an investigation determined Guillen's death occurred as a result of her military duties at the hands of another soldier in the "line of duty," a designation that gives her family access to benefits and services, included being buried with full military honors.
“The military is failing to protect its service members, both men and women, from sexual trauma,” said combat veteran Corporal E4 Krishna Flores. “We sign up to serve, and we deserve to be protected within our ranks.” Flores indicated that while serving, at the age of 19, she was sexually assaulted by a ranking officer, a trauma she indicates she still struggles with. At the time, she was afraid to speak up, knowing it would end her chances of serving in combat.
Following Flores’ remarks, Palmdale City Manager J.J. Murphy spoke and said, “I am retired Air Force and father to five daughters, and I would hope that one of my daughters might be interested in serving our country in the military. But I want them to be able to pursue military service knowing that they will be safe and guarded against sexual assault. I also wish to thank Maria for honoring Specialist Guillen and represent the youth of today who are tomorrow’s leaders.”
“It is heartwarming to see our Antelope Valley Queens actively involved in making a positive difference,” said Palmdale Mayor Steve Hofbauer. “If you know someone who serves, either as a first responder or member of the military, be there to help. Be a friend and connect them to the help they need.”
At the conclusion of the event, Flores reminded participants that any service member may receive help at the Antelope Valley Vet Center, where community base counseling programs and other outreach services are available for free. For more information, call 661/267-1026.