14 Senior Fort Hood Officers Fired, Suspended After Investigation Into Vanessa Guillen's Death
Fourteen senior Fort Hood officers have been fired or suspended after an independent review committee discovered leadership had been enabling a culture of violence and sexual assault and harassment while failing to properly investigate missing soldiers.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy announced that a new policy for missing soldiers has been enacted and a "People First Task Force" is being created to implement the committee's recommendations.
The Army has released findings from an independent review revealing that "leadership failures" are directly responsible for the culture of violence, sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination endemic to Fort Hood.
The independent review was commissioned by Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy following national outrage and public pressure over the murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen and the base's growing number of dead and missing soldiers. "[Her murder] shocked our conscious and brought attention to deeper problems."
Fort Hood has the highest rates of homicide, assault, and sexual harassment in the Army. Twenty-six Fort Hood soldiers have died this year alone.
"The initial investigation into Vanessa's death, coupled with high numbers of crimes and deaths at Fort Hood, has revealed a series of missteps and multiple failures in our system and within our leadership," McCarthy said on Tuesday at a Pentagon press conference in which he announced the firing and suspension of 14 senior Fort Hood officers including Major General Scott L. Efflandt, Fort Hood's acting commander at the time of Vanessa Guillen's death.
The independent review committee, made up of the regional director of a veterans' nonprofit organization and four lawyers with backgrounds in law enforcement, military and government investigations, and complex employment issues, surveyed over 31,000 soldiers at Fort Hood, as well as local leaders and law enforcement, reports CNN.
The committee found that Fort Hood command enabled a culture of violence and sexual assault and harassment while failing to properly investigate missing soldiers.
"The findings of the committee identified major flaws with the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Prevention Program (SHARP) [...] fundamental issues with the Fort Hood Criminal Investigation Command field office activities [...] and finally, a command climate at Fort Hood that was permissive of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault," McCarthy said.
"I am gravely disappointed that leaders failed to effectively create a climate that treated all soldiers with dignity and respect, and that failed to reinforce everyone's obligation to prevent and properly respond to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault," he added.
"Soldiers assaulting and harassing other Soldiers is contrary to Army values and requires a dramatic change in culture," said committee chair Chris Swecker.
"The committee determined that, during the time period covered by our review, there was a permissive environment for sexual assault and sexual harassment at Fort Hood. We have recommended changes to the staffing, structure and implementation of the SHARP program at Fort Hood, and possibly beyond, to address deeply dysfunctional norms and regain Soldiers' trust."
McCarthy said he is creating a "People First Task Force" to implement the committee's recommendations and that he has already signed a new policy to follow when soldiers go missing.
Instead of immediately reporting missing soldiers "AWOL," under the new policy, missing soldiers will be considered "absent-unknown" and command will attempt to determine whether or not they left their post voluntarily.
"It clarifies expectations and responsibilities of unit commanders and Army law enforcement authorities, focusing on the first 48 hours a soldier is missing," McCarthy said. "It creates new processes for soldiers' reporting for duty status and casualty status, for supporting missing soldiers' families."
For many families, including Vanessa's, the new policy and implementation of the committee's reccommendations come months too late.
No word on whether the officers relieved of their duties or suspended will face criminal charges.