Soldier’s death leaves family asking ‘why, why, why?’
Indian Country Today
AUSTIN, Texas — A Diné soldier and father of two sons, including a newborn, died this week after collapsing on his 25th birthday during a training exercise at a U.S. Army base, Army officials and family said.
Pvt. Corlton L. Chee died Wednesday after he collapsed following a physical fitness training on Aug. 28, Fort Hood officials said Friday. He was initially transported to Carl R. Darnall Medical Center and transferred to Baylor Scott and White in Temple, Texas, on Aug. 30, where Army officials said he died with his family by his side.
“We’re having a hard time trying to adjust to everything that has happened. It all just happened so suddenly,” said Carma Johnson, Diné, Chee’s older sister.
“He was always adventurous, very healthy, wanting to do something courageous, and very, very loving,” Johnson told Indian Country Today. “I know all he wanted was the best for his boys and fiancée.”
Chee leaves behind two young children. He was planning to return home later this year to finally meet his youngest son, Kozak, who is 3 weeks old.
Chee was raised with five sisters in Pinehill, New Mexico, part of the Ramah Navajo Nation. His given name from his paternal grandfather was Haash’keh yil dees wod, which means “warrior who came upon war,” Johnson said.
His family says they are still working through funeral arrangements that will take place in Gallup, New Mexico.
Chee entered the Army in February as a tank crewman. In July, he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. His awards include the National Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
According to data obtained by The Associated Press from Fort Hood officials, Chee is the 28th soldier from the Central Texas base to die this year.
"Every loss effects every single person in this battalion because we are a family of warriors, but this is exceptionally heartbreaking," said Lt. Col. Ron Sprang, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment.
His family says they requested a full investigation to be completed to find out why he died. “We are just asking ourselves why, why, why?” Johnson said.
An autopsy will be done by the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas, Army officials said in a statement. The incident is currently under investigation.
Prior to enlisting, Chee worked as an emergency firefighter with the Zuni Agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Forestry and Wildland Fire Management. “Ramah Navajo and Zuni Agency sends our deepest condolences to the family,” the agency posted on Facebook.
Chee’s family says he was dedicated to fitness, and enjoyed weight training, running and boxing.
“He even got us to join him once,” Johnson said laughing. “He even got us to push a vehicle. It would help us with our strength, he told us. … Even Mom went out there and did it.”
Chee’s family say they are grateful for the many calls and messages they’ve received from family and community members to offer support.
“For those calling us to tell us that we need to remain strong, it means a lot,” Johnson said. “We really thank everyone for their condolences.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.