Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, named after a Confederate general and long plagued by a series of suicides, homicides and fatal accidents, was renamed on Tuesday after the Army’s first Hispanic four-star general.
The base was redesignated Fort Cavazos in honor of Gen. Richard Edward Cavazos, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars who was born in Texas to Mexican-American parents. In 1982, he became the first Hispanic to wear four stars on his uniform.
The central Texas post is one of nine US Army installations being renamed after the recommendations of a congressional commission set up to remove Confederate names from military bases. Fort Hood is named after John Bell Hood, a Confederate general.
The change at one of the country’s largest military installations follows efforts by the military to confront racial injustice and inequality in its ranks, particularly in the aftermath of the 2020 killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
“General Cavazos’ combat proven leadership, his moral character and his loyalty to his Soldiers and their families made him the fearless yet respected and influential leader that he was during the time he served, and beyond,” said Lt. Gen. Sean Bernabe, Commanding General of III Armored Corps, headquartered at the Texas post.
Cavazos, who retired from the Army in 1984 after 33 years of service, died in 2017.
At a ceremony Tuesday morning, attended by relatives of Cavazos, soldiers cased the Fort Hood colors and uncased the official flag of the Fort Cavazos garrison before unveiling a new sign at the main entrance to the 218,000-plus acre military installation.
“Given the importance of this installation for our Army and for our nation I can think of no better namesake than Gen. Richard Cavazos,” Bernabe said Tuesday.
“Let his name and all that it represents inspire us all every single day to live up to his legacy as a warrior, as a soldier’s soldier, as a master trainer, as a military innovator, as a coach and mentor and as a humble servant leader.”
The renaming of bases became a heated political issue in the final months of the Trump administration, when the former president blasted the idea, accusing others of wanting to “throw those names away.”
Trump had vetoed the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which included the Naming Commission, but in the waning days of his administration, Congress delivered its first and only veto override during his tenure, approving the legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support.
And the renaming comes at a time when Gen. Lloyd Austin, the country’s first Black secretary of defense, has identified racism and domestic extremism as some of the most pressing issues facing the country and the armed services.
“The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies. But we can’t do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks,” Austin said at his confirmation hearing.
As many as 33 service members or veterans were charged following the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 according to a CNN analysis.
Austin called the insurrection a “wake-up call” for the military. The heavy participation of service members reignited concerns at the Pentagon.
Austin reached the highest post in the Pentagon through West Point, the elite military academy that is only now beginning to come to terms with a legacy of racism.
And Austin was a lieutenant colonel with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 1995 – when two neo-Nazi skinheads from the elite unit murdered a Black man and a Black woman in a racially charged killing. Austin spoke about the episode at his confirmation hearing.
“We discovered that the signs for that activity were there all along. We just didn’t know what to look for, what to pay attention to, what we learned from it,” Austin said, “and I think this is one of those things that’s important to our military to make sure that we keep a handle on.”
“We can never take our hands off the wheel on this,” he added.
Fort Bragg, named after Confederate General Braxton Bragg, will be renamed Fort Liberty on June 2.
Fort Hood no stranger to tragedy
The renaming of Fort Hood, home to more than 34,500 soldiers, comes at a time when its current name has become synonymous with tragedy.
The 2020 killing of 20-year-old soldier Vanessa Guillen and deaths of several other service members on the base prompted the Army to order an independent review into the climate and culture at the base.
The review found that the Army investigators tasked with looking at complex crimes at Fort Hood were vastly inexperienced, overwhelmed and understaffed, resulting in failures to protect service members and their families. The Army later punished 14 senior officers at the base.
In 2009, a US Army psychiatrist killed 13 people, an unborn child and injured 32 others in a shooting rampage. Five years later the US Army post was struck again when a veteran killed three people and injured 16 others before killing himself.
Cavazos was known for his leadership and for mentoring many Army commanders, according to the Army.
He served as platoon leader for the Borinqueneers, a unit of mostly Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican soldiers, during the Korean War and later commanded the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, in Vietnam. Cavazos received three major military decorations for valor in combat, including the Distinguished Service Cross twice for his service in those two wars. He served as the commander of the III Armored Corps and Fort Hood from 1980 to 1982.
Austin, in a 2022 memo announcing the name changes, said: “The names of these installations and facilities should inspire all those who call them home, fully reflect the history and the values of the United States, and commemorate the best of the republic that we are all sworn to protect.”
CNN’s Oren Liebermann, Devan Cole, Ellie Kaufman, Dakin Andone, Zachary Cohen, Janie Boschma, Nicole Gaouette, and Ryan Browne contributed to this report.