KILLEEN, Texas — On June 2, 2016, Kameron Robinson was riding in the truck that rolled over in flooded Owl Creek on Fort Hood, claiming the lives of eight soldiers and a West Point cadet.
The Killeen Daily Herald reports Robinson was one of 12 on the truck during the drill and is one of three survivors.
Robinson, who’s no longer with the Army, recently decided to share the memories that haunt him two years later.
Flash flood warnings had been issued and the crossing had been designated off-limits, but a platoon heading out for some Sergeant’s Time training on the morning of June 2, 2016 didn’t know that.
The drill was to be low-water familiarization training for newly assigned transport operators, and the weather had taken a turn for the worse with a heavy downpour of rain and severe flooding, Robinson said.
Robinson and other soldiers had reservations about conducting the training that morning.
“Amongst ourselves walking up to our vehicles, we were wondering if there was any word on the training because the rain was getting pretty bad,” Robinson said.
Robinson said just prior to departure on the training, he and other soldiers were approached by the platoon leader and by Staff Sgt. Miguel Colonvazquez, who were discussing that morning’s training.
Robinson and the other soldiers asked: Did you not see the flash flood warnings we’ve been getting? Are you sure we should be going out there?
Robinson said the platoon leader’s response was, because the platoon hadn’t done training in some time, the training needed to go forward.
After the platoon leader left the area, the soldiers told Colonvazquez they didn’t feel comfortable with the morning’s training because of the weather. Robinson said Colonvazquez left to speak with the platoon leader about altering the training plan but returned a short time later stating the training had to go forward as planned.
Robinson said Colonvazquez, in the past, had fought against doing things he was uncomfortable doing but would follow the orders given to him.
Robinson said he and Colonvazquez, Spc. Christine Faith Armstrong, Spc. Rogelio Morales, Spc. Tyrail Friend, Pfc. Brandon Austin Banner, Pfc. Zachery Nathaniel Fuller, Pvt. Isaac Lee Deleon, Pvt. Eddy Raelaurin Gates, Pvt. Tysheena Lynette James, Spc. Yingming Sun and Cadet Mitchell Alexander Winey got in their Light Medium Tactical Vehicle or LMTV.
Colonvasquez, Winey and James were in the cab of the vehicle. The rear of the LMTV, about 5 feet off the ground, was equipped with two bench seats along the sides. On the left, behind the driver, beginning toward the cab, were Robinson, Friend, Gates, Sun and Fuller. On the right side were Banner, Morales, Armstrong and DeLeon.
On the way to the training area, the soldiers talked among themselves or caught a quick nap. When the vehicle stopped, Robinson told the other soldiers to get ready because he believed they were at the training location.
“We’re sitting there, and the vehicle is slowly moving, and all the sudden water started hitting our feet, and I’m thinking, ‘OK, a little bit of water, we’re just going to go over it and that will be it,’” Robinson said. “The water started rising and rising, and it got to my knee caps and everybody started panicking a little bit.”
Robinson tried to calm the soldiers, telling them, it’s just a little bit of water, and it will eventually recede, and they’d be fine. Then, the water was at their waist. Robinson said to lift the flap on the back of the tarp-covered vehicle, so he could see their surroundings. He looked behind them.
“All I saw were the other convoy trucks, the ground and a mountain of water between them and us.”
The water reached Robinson’s chest, but he continued to try reassuring the other soldiers to not panic, because panicking under water can lead to drowning.
Then, the truck was completely submerged.
“I’m hanging onto the bars on the top of the (LMTV canopy support), and I just feel the whole truck rolling, thinking to myself that I’m about to just drown, in a military vehicle, in a training accident,” Robinson said. “I’m just sitting there thinking, it felt like forever, and the vehicle just pops back up. There were nine of us back there, but when it pops back up there’s three.”
Robinson said DeLeon was in front of him and asked what had happened. He told DeLeon to take off his gear and get out of the truck and the water. He next saw Gates hanging from the tailgate looking back.
“I told her, ‘don’t worry about it, I’m going to come get you, and we’re going to go out,’” Robinson said. “As soon as I took a step, the truck flipped over again, and it threw me out. I swam across and grabbed a branch, the truck hit me, and I went back under.”
Robinson eventually resurfaced and grabbed another branch and sat up on a knee, then heard a blood-curdling scream.
“Morales, he screamed, but it wasn’t a normal scream,” Robinson said. “It was a scream you don’t really hear often, so it put me in a state of shock, and I couldn’t move.”
Robinson said Morales asked him what had happened.
“I looked over, and I saw Friend (on the bank) throwing up water screaming, ‘Help me, help me! I’m drowning,‘” Robinson said. “I couldn’t move, I’d never seen anything like that, so I was just staring at him.”
Robinson heard branches moving and breaking as other soldiers from vehicles behind them in the convoy arrived to help. He collected himself and remembered Gates was on the back tailgate so he headed downstream to look for her and other potential survivors.
“I took off all my stuff, and I took off downriver screaming for anybody there, looking along the bank, looking for anybody,” Robinson said. “I went down a good mile screaming names, but nobody was answering.
He had been joined by a soldier from the convoy.
“We didn’t see nobody. all we saw was the (truck’s) drip pan floating down the river.”
Robinson thought perhaps the others had escaped on the other side of the bank when he heard a soldier calling out names.
“I heard him screaming ‘Staff Sgt. Colon, Fuller, Armstrong,’ everybody’s name, but there was no response,” Robinson said.
Robinson returned to the spot of the initial accident and was met by emergency responders. He was taken to the hospital in nearby Gatesville and eventually to Darnell Army Medical Center.
“I told them (hospital staff) if they find anybody to let us know and keep us updated, and that’s when they started letting us know they found bodies,” Robinson said.
Robinson said agents from the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division arrived at the hospital to get statements.
“They just asked us what happened, who made the call (to do the training),” Robinson said. “They were looking for somebody to blame.” Robinson told them what had happened but did not mention who had made the call.
Robinson spent about four days in the hospital. The platoon leader who had insisted they conduct the training visited him.
“He came in crying, but I was like, ‘don’t give me none of that,’ because we could have avoided all of this had he just simply listened to us,” Robinson said.
After being discharged from the hospital, Robinson was given two weeks of leave to recover before returning to work. A gag order was issued by the command and none of the soldiers could speak about the accident. To date, no other investigating officials from either Army’s C.I.D. or the Fort Hood unit have interviewed Robinson. The investigating officer appointed by Fort Hood had concluded much of the blame rested with Colonvazquez.
“The only people that talked to me were (on) the day of (the accident) at the hospital,” Robinson said. “At least get a statement from us, from our point of view.”
In the months that followed the accident, Robinson got the feeling the chain of command didn’t care about them. He said the platoon leader was moved to another unit immediately after the accident and has since been promoted.
“After the unit started treating us a certain way, I didn’t want to be around them anymore,” Robinson said.
“I couldn’t really focus and being trapped here in the same unit, was just messing with my mind,” Robinson said.
Robinson said he sought assistance from several agencies on the installation where he could speak to others about the trauma he went through.
He began experiencing financial problems after what he said was a series of mishaps with his military orders which resulted in his pay being temporarily stopped.
“I didn’t get paid for three months, I had my car repossessed, so I was just in a bad spot and depressed,” Robinson said.
Robinson, who was already enrolled in the Army’s Substance Abuse Program, informed his counselors of his use of marijuana to help deal with the depression and anxiety he was experiencing.
In June 2017, he was arrested for soliciting prostitution. It was his first arrest for anything, he said. He paid court fees, was assigned to take a class at a school for offenders and will be on probation for two months.
He later failed a drug test and was separated from the Army on Jan. 24 with a general discharge under honorable conditions for a rehabilitative failure.
It’s been four years since the Santa Maria, California, native shipped out for the Army on March 17, 2014, to be trained as a motor transport operator.
He arrived at Fort Hood in July 2014 assigned to Company F, 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team. After completing a rotation to the Republic of Korea, he returned to Fort Hood, just prior to the deadly training accident.
Robinson is currently enrolled at Colorado Technical University online studying to earn a bachelor’s degree health care management in an attempt to pick up the pieces of his life and hope for a more promising future.
He still suffers from the traumatic events of June 2, 2016.
“I’m still kind of messed up about it, this is something I’m not going to forget,” Robinson said. “I had gotten too close to those people for them to be gone like that.”