Army’s efforts to make systemic change

Fort Hood, an army base located outside of Killeen, Texas, has been the center of controversy for the past decade. The base has seen its fair share of high-level crimes, ranging from sexual assault to mass shootings, but demands to improve the situation at Fort Hood only recently occurred. 

The call for change came officially on Dec. 8, when Secretary of the Army, Ryan D. McCarthy, spoke on the finding and recommendations of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee. The committee had spent the past few months conducting a report on the climate command and culture at Fort Hood following the murder of 20-year-old Specialist Vanessa Guillén.

Guillén had gone missing from the base on April 22, and for several months her family claimed that the army was not providing necessary details from the investigation to them. It was not until June 30, after months of calling for action from the army, that Guillén’s dismembered remains were found alongside the Leon River encased in cement.

Her murderer, Aaron David Robinson, had bludgeoned her to death with a hammer in the base armory. He and his girlfriend, Cecily Anne Aguilar, had both worked together to dismember and bury Guillén’s remains.

Killeen police attempted to make contact with Robinson to arrest him, but he had shot himself with a handgun before they could take him into custody. Aguilar was arrested by Texas Rangers and put into federal custody after July 2 when she was charged with tampering with evidence.

Secretary of the Army, McCarthy had announced on July 10 that a full report by a selected committee would be conducted following her death. The committee included McCarthy himself and five other civilians. For the next 103 days, a panel for the committee surveyed over 31,000 soldiers and interviewed 716 of them. On Nov. 9, the panel met with senior leaders in the army to discuss nine findings and 70 recommendations concluded from the investigation. 

All findings and recommendations were accepted by McCarthy in his statement on Dec. 8.

“This report, without a doubt, will cause the Army to change our culture. I have decided to accept all these findings in whole. In response, we have created the People First Task Force to map out a plan to tackle them,” said McCarthy at the briefing.

The investigation discovered many flaws in the way sexual assault and harassment reports were conducted as well as issues within prevention against sexual assault programs at Fort Hood. 

Before her death, Guillén had confided in her mother claiming that she was sexually harassed by an unnamed soldier who already had multiple reports against himself, though all were dismissed.

McCarthy stated that the committee would use the 70 recommendations to improve criminal investigation both within Fort Hood and service-wide.

“The committee made 70 recommendations to improve the following areas: overall SHARP program structure, Fort Hood Criminal Investigation field office command activities, Army missing soldier protocols, Fort Hood crime prevention and response activities, Army-wide command climate issues and Fort Hood public affairs activities,” explained McCarthy.

In addition to these future improvements, Secretary McCarthy relieved or suspended 14 service members stationed at the base. Those who were fired include III Corps deputy commander Maj. Gen. Scott L. Efflandt, 3rd Cavalry regiment commander and senior enlisted soldier Col. Ralph Overland and Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Knapp. 

Members who were suspended include 1st Cavalry Division leader Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Broadwater and 1st Cavalry Division commander Sgt. Thomas C. Penny.

Others who were also fired or suspended were not identified publicly per an Army policy of not naming service members at or below battalion level.

The sexual harassment Guillén may have experienced has caused many survivors of military sexual harassment and assault to tell their stories. This new milestone of the military recognizing the systemic failures of combating this issue has started a movement known as the “MeToo” movement of the military, a movement known and very close to many students at Masuk. This support for survivors has increased activism online, which led the Guillén family and supporters to push for change through legislative action.

Representatives Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) introduced the “I Am Vanessa Guillén” bill back in September. It was met with bipartisan support and, if passed, it would allow those who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to report their case to another party outside their chain of command.

Along with this new measure, the act if passed would also allow those who made claims to file it under the Department of Defense for compensation purposes and it would make sexual harassment a punishable crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Representative Sylvia Garcia, who represents the district where the Guillén family resides, supports this bill along with several other Texan representatives such as Ted Cruz and Veronica Escobar.

“For too long, men and women in the military have warned us about the toxic culture that enables sexual violence in the U.S. Armed Forces. When we examine our conscience, we must act,” stated Garcia in a written statement.

The group fighting for this bill plans to reintroduce it to the House floor at the beginning of 2021.

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