'Something in the water’: Congressional delegation slams Fort Hood culture
FORT HOOD, Texas (KWTX) – Members of the U.S. House Armed Services and Oversight and Reform committees visited Fort Hood Friday. The delegation met with soldiers and post leaders as part of the continuing investigation of the deaths of at least 26 soldiers so far this year.
Members of the delegation include U.S. Reps. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas; Gilbert Cisneros, D-Calif.; Jason Crow, D-Colo.; Stephen Lynch, D-Mass.; Katherine Clark, D-Mass.; Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas; Jackie Speier, D-Calif. and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.
The delegation slammed the culture at Fort Hood, the handling of sexual misconduct allegations, and the physical state of the barracks.
“I’m convinced now there is something in the water at Fort Hood,” said Rep. Sylvia Garcia from Houston.
The visit comes two days after the introduction of a bill named in honor of slain Fort Hood Spc. Vanessa Guillen that would expand measures to prevent sexual assault and harassment involving U.S. military personnel.
The measure, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and U.S. Rep Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., has more than 70 cosponsors.
The group said they met with soldiers and their spouses who were not complimentary about their experiences at Fort Hood.
Rep. Speier read anonymous quotes from soldiers and their spouses stating ‘I don’t feel safe at Fort Hood', ‘Fort Hood is where careers go to die’, and ‘I am afraid I’ll find my husband hanging in the shower.'
“One of the things that I believe has gone wrong is that the criminal investigation division is ill equipped to do the job it is charged to do," Speier said.
Fort Hood leadership said they welcome the investigation and are ready to support the delegation in their quest for change at the base.
“Our goal is to provide them detailed information to ensure they have a full understanding of the challenges facing Fort Hood, and what we are doing right now to address the issues,” Maj. Gen. John B. Richardson IV, III Corps deputy commanding general, said.
On Sept. 1 the Army announced changes in Fort Hood leadership and named the senior commander who will lead the military investigation into the handling of Guillen’s disappearance and death.
Maj. Gen. John B. Richardson IV was named deputy commanding general for operations of III Corps and acting senior commander of Fort Hood, replacing the post’s acting commander, Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, who was to have moved to El Paso to assume command of Fort Bliss.
“This previously-scheduled change in leadership will enable continuity of command as III Corps returns from its role leading the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve,” the Army said in a press release.
Members of the delegation say they are encouraged by the sense of urgency they’ve seen from the new command but are still skeptical until they see changes.
Richardson served from 2019 to 2020 as FORSCOM’s director of operations and in March 2020 was selected by the Department of the Army to serve as the next deputy commanding general of III Corps.
“Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt will continue to serve as the deputy commanding general for support and will remain at Fort Hood to assist with the reintegration of III Corps as they return from their mission supporting Operation Inherent Resolve,” the Army said.
Efflandt was slated to move to Fort Bliss to take over leadership of the 1st Armored Division, but the Army announced last month his transfer had been delayed because of the independent review.
Essentially, he’s sliding over," Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville told the Army Times.
The previously scheduled adjustment shouldn’t be interpreted as a punishment, he was quoted as saying.
Efflandt has been serving as the post’s acting commander while the commanding general of III Corps and Fort Hood, Lt. Gen. Pat White, commands Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve, overseeing the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Guillen’s disappearance and death sparked mounting calls for justice and reform.
Guillen was last seen sometime between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on April 22 in the parking lot of her 3rd Cavalry Regiment Engineer Squadron Headquarters.
Keys to her car and her barracks room and her ID card and wallet were later found in the armory room where she had worked earlier in the day.
More than two months later, on June 30, contractors working on a fence along the Leon River discovered remains later confirmed to be hers.
A federal affidavit released on July 2 says Spc. Aaron David Robinson, 20 of Calumet City, Ill., beat Guillen, with a hammer.
Robinson shot himself in the head early in the morning on July 1 in the 4700 block of East Rancier Avenue as Killeen officers approached him.
During Friday’s press conference, Rep. Spier said Robinson was being monitored for violating COVID-19 quarantine rules and not for questioning in relation to Vanessa Guillen’s death.
Members of Guillen’s family say Robinson sexually harassed, Guillen, but post officials say they’ve found no evidence to support the allegation.
His girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, 22, who’s accused of helping Robinson dispose of Guillen’s remains, was arrested the same day.
She’s charged with one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence.
The delegation said on Saturday they plan to visit the site where Guillen’s body was found along the Leon River along with the sites where other soldiers have died.
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