Two generals, 12 other Fort Hood leaders suspended or relieved in wake of critical review
FORT HOOD, Texas (KWTX) The persistent demand for answers from the family of a missing Fort Hood soldier was a major catalyst for an independent review that led to the relief or suspension of 14 officers and enlisted personnel, the creation of a new Army policy on missing personnel and the formation of a task force to address recommendations of the review committee announced Tuesday by Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy.
McCarthy’s actions come in the wake of a year during which 25 soldiers assigned to Fort Hood died from suicide, homicide or accidents, including Spc. Vanessa Guillen whose disappearance in April focused national attention on the post.
“Everybody’s listening. Everybody’s watching. Everybody cares. And that’s important. Vanessa’s death will not be in vain. It will live with us forever,” Guillen family attorney Natalie Khawam said during a news conference Tuesday in Houston.
The eight months since Guillen disappeared have been hard, Guillen’s older sister Mayra Guillen said, but the family plans to keep going “as hard as it gets.”
“We’re here today and Vanessa has made a great impact. As long as we have we’re going to keep pushing,” she said.
“We don’t need this to happen again and we’re I guess you could say we’re satisfied with the investigation that was released today.”
“I am gravely disappointed”
The responsibility for the issues at Fort Hood rests on the shoulders of the post’s leaders, McCarthy said Tuesday as he, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville and Sgt. Major of the Army Michael A. Grinston briefed the media on the Fort Hood Independent Review conducted by a panel of five civilians.
“Leaders drive culture and are responsible for everything the unit does or doesn’t not do. I am gravely disappointed,” he said.
McCarthy relieved Maj. Gen. Scott L. Efflandt, deputy commanding general III Corps; and Col. Ralph Overland and Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Knapp, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment commander and command sergeant major.
He suspended Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Broadwater and Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas C. Kenny, 1st Cavalry Division commanding general and command sergeant major, pending the outcome of an investigation of the division’s command climate and Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program.
The names of commanders and leaders at and below the battalion level who “received administrative action” were not released.
The Army is also opening a separate investigation into the resourcing, policies and procedures of the 6th Military Police Group, Criminal Investigation Command.
Under Army procedures, when a soldier is fired or suspended from a post, it can often lead to a fuller investigation into the matter.
While some can move on to another Army job, a firing or suspension can often signal the end of a soldier’s career.
McCarthy announced a new policy “intended to ensure the Army maximizes efforts to find missing soldiers” under which commanders must determine by a “preponderance of evidence that a soldier’s absence is voluntary” in order to classify a soldier as AWOL.
“When one of our teammates does not report for duty, we will change their duty status to ‘absent-unknown’ and take immediate action to find them.”
He also announced the creation of the People First Task Force to review the committee’s recommendations and “map out a plan to tackle them.”
The task force will include representatives from across the Army, he said.
“The tragic death of Vanessa Guillen and a rash of other challenges at Fort Hood forced us to take a critical look at our system policy and selves. But without leadership, systems don’t matter,” McCarthy said.
“This is not about metrics but it’s to have the human decency to show compassion for our teammates and look out for the best interest for our soldiers,” he said.
“This report without a doubt will cause the Army to change our culture. I accept all these findings in whole.”
“While the independent review focused on the command climate and culture at Fort Hood, the findings contained in the committee’s report impact the entire Army and more than 1.2 million soldiers, he said.
“In response, we’ve created the People First Task Force to study the committee’s recommendations and map out a plan to tackle them.”
“A toxic culture was allowed to harden and set”
The five-member independent review committee was appointed in July.
Chris Swecker, Jonathan Harmon, Carrie Ricci, Queta Rodriguez and Jack White, who have a combined 75 years of experience as active-duty military and law-enforcement personnel, arrived at the post on Aug. 30 to start their two-week review to determine whether the command climate and culture and the surrounding military community, reflects the Army’s values, including safety, respect, inclusiveness, and a commitment to diversity, and workplaces and communities free from sexual harassment.
The 136-page report the committee prepared found the post’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention or SHARP program “has been ineffective, due to a command climate that failed to instill sharp program core values below the brigade level.”
“There is strong evidence that incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment at Fort Hood are significantly underreported and the SHARP program is “structurally flawed,” the report said.
The report found inefficiencies and deficiencies in Fort Hood’s Criminal Investigation Division, public relations and incident management and says “there were no established procedures for first line supervisors in ‘failure to report’ situations that define appropriate actions in the critical first 24 hours.”
“The mechanics of the Army’s adjudication processes involving sexual assault and sexual harassment degrade confidence in the sharp program,” the report says, and “there are unaddressed crime problems on Fort Hood, because the installation is in a fully reactive posture.”
“The command climate at Fort Hood has been permissive of sexual harassment (and) sexual assault,” the report says.
The committee interviewed almost 650 Fort Hood soldiers in person, 503 of them women assigned to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and the 1st Cavalry Division and met with civil rights organizations, area mayors, local law enforcement officials and prosecutors and with the Guillen family.
A confidential survey drew 31,612 responses.
The committee also reviewed off-post homicides involving Pvt. 2nd Class Gregory Scott Morales who disappeared in August 2019 and whose remains were found on June 19 in a field in Killeen; Shelby Tyler Jones, who was shot to death on March 1 outside of a strip club in Killeen; Spc. Freddy Delacruz, Jr., who died of a gunshot wound on March 14 in a shooting that left two others dead at an apartment complex in Killeen; Former Fort Hood soldier Michael Steven Wardrobe who died of a gunshot wound on March 23 during a dispute with a current soldier, and Pfc. Brandon Scott Rosecrans who was shot to death on May18 in what court documents said was a dispute over a gun sale.
The review determined there are unaddressed crime issues at Fort Hood, but also found that the crime rates of surrounding cities are low compared to cities outside of other major U.S. military installations.
The review “determined that violent sex crimes and other sex crimes, violent felonies, assault and battery, drug offenses, drunk and disorderly, larceny and other misdemeanors, desertions and AWOL were all higher at Fort Hood compared to FORSCOM averages over the 2016 to 2020 time period.”
“This climate, however, is not attributable to any one commander or command staff. Nor did it spontaneously combust during the review period, or as a direct consequence of recent events. It was a culture that was developed over time out of neglect and persisted over a series of commands that predated 2018. A toxic culture was allowed to harden and set.”
“Many of the command’s actions were clumsy at best and at times insensitive”
The report specifically faults Fort Hood’s commanders, Criminal Investigation Division and Public Affairs Office for missteps after Guillen’s disappearance.
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.
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.
Before Guillen’s murder, the report says, “Fort Hood’s protocols and procedures were inadequate to account for, to safeguard and to determine the whereabouts of missing soldiers in the hours immediately after they went missing.”
And, the report says, Fort Hood’s CID is essentially a training ground.”
“There were simply too few journeyman level Agents to work the complex sex crime and death cases while mentoring the large number of inexperienced and un-credentialed special agents who are constantly transferring in and out.
During the course of the investigation, the report notes, the special agent in charge of the Fort Hood CID transferred to another post amid “one of the most complex and high profile investigations the office has ever handled.”
Fort Hood’s Public Affairs Office, the report says “found itself unable to adequately inform the public and pragmatically inform public perception. The facts became largely irrelevant as a groundswell of support for false theories and poorly informed accusations took root through social media outlets.”
“To frustrate public relations further, beyond PAO activities, the committee observed a pervasive absence of a human touch in the command’s interactions with the family of Spc. Guillén and with the general public,” the report says.
“Simply put, many of the command’s actions were clumsy at best and at times insensitive.”
“Tell the truth and help us make corrections along the way”
III Corps and Fort Hood Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Pat White was deployed to Iraq as the commander there for much of the year and wasn’t on post when Guillen was killed.
In an Associated Press interview last month, White said that he and other commanders bear responsibility for the problems.
But he said it will take time to correct what some believe are systemic failures, and that some units will respond more quickly than others.
“I think all leadership is accountable for it, if you’re in this chain of command,” White said.
“We have got to do everything we can to get this back on track.”
During a news conference Tuesday he said changes are already underway.
Fort Hood, he said, will be setting aside more than 4 million man hours for junior leaders to work on team building and getting to know their soldiers.
“Now we will deal with the aftermath because there are people that won’t be reporting tomorrow. And they didn’t know this yesterday”
“We can fill the required positions. What we’re seeking is professionals. That all takes a little bit of time.”
“I’m fully confident in the way the Army develops their leaders, that being said, we need to address this directly. We’re creating a People’s First Academy so we can develop the best leaders for the chain of command,” he said.
“We have given one day each month as part of People First for counseling and to be able to train where these corrosives exist.”
“This is your Army. Tell the truth and help us make corrections along the way.”
“This is not going to be swept under the rug”
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Tuesday he is asking the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee to schedule hearings to determine if what happened at Fort Hood is “more broad or systemic within our military installations.”
“It’s simply unacceptable to have one of our military installations, where our young men and women go to serve in the military and be safe, subject to either harassment, or sexual assault, or even loss of life,” he said.
“This is not going to be swept under the rug”
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said he’s encouraged “the Army is prepared to implement meaningful change at Fort Hood and across the entire service.”
“The problem of sexual assault and harassment in our military is far too often pervasive in our armed forces, which is why I’ve long supported the bipartisan Military Justice Improvement Act. I’ll continue working with my colleagues to ensure we uphold our solemn obligation to protect the young women and men of our armed forces from sexual violence.”
U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, whose district includes part of the sprawling post, met with Army Undersecretary Jim McPherson before the release of the report Tuesday.
“I am confident this report provides a detailed road map for lawmakers and the military leaders to engage in a much-needed dialogue on the current state of our nation’s most revered institution,” Williams said.
“Today’s release of the independent panel’s findings determined that there were individuals within particular chains of command that did not live up to the Army’s values, and subsequently violated their commitment to care for their fellow soldiers,” he said.
“No service member, regardless of unit or assignment, should ever feel unsafe amongst their battle buddies, and our work continues to properly address the shortfalls identified this afternoon,” he said.
“As Congress and military leaders take action to address the recommendations in this report, we must continue honoring the legacy of Spc. Vanessa Guillen and make changes that fully address the shortcomings of SHARP to protect every soldier.
More on the five panel members
Chris Swecker has a solo law practice, “Swecker Law,” in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is of counsel for the Miller & Martin Law Firm. As a consultant, Mr. Swecker has conducted similar independent reviews, including for the NC State Highway Patrol, the NC State Bureau of Investigation, the Vogel Nuclear Power Plant, and the Winston Salem Police Department. Mr. Swecker served 24 years with the FBI before retiring as assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. As an FBI inspector, he conducted inspection reviews of the leadership and all aspects of FBI Field Divisions, including Chicago, New Haven, New York, Milwaukee, Seattle, Boston and Honolulu. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State University, followed by a Juris Doctor from the Wake Forest University School of Law.
Jonathan Harmon, chairman of McGuireWoods LLP, is a prominent trial lawyer who has represented Fortune 500 companies across the country. Mr. Harmon formerly led McGuireWoods’ Business & Securities Litigation Department. His business litigation practice spans complex commercial, fraud, class-action, insurance fraud, complex business/civil tort, environmental, product liability, employment, construction, toxic tort, and federal or state protected whistleblower cases. Mr. Harmon is a 1987 graduate of United States Military Academy at West Point, and he received a Juris Doctor from the University of Texas School of Law in 1995.
Carrie Ricci, an assistant general counsel for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has supervisory responsibility for a team of 30 attorneys and professional support staff that provide legal services to both the marketing and regulatory programs and the food safety mission areas of USDA. Prior to joining USDA, Ms. Ricci served as an assistant general counsel with the Department of Defense Education Activity, providing legal support to 14 school districts worldwide that service 87,000 children from kindergarten through 12th grade. Before her role with DoDEA, Ms. Ricci served nearly 22 years as an active-duty Army officer, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. Ms. Ricci is a graduate of Georgetown University and the University of Maryland School of Law.
Queta Rodriguez, a regional director for FourBlock, was born and lives in Bexar County, Texas. Prior to joining FourBlock, a national nonprofit that helps veterans transition into civilian careers, Ms. Rodriguez served as a director of veterans services for Bexar County. She earned a bachelor’s degree in government and politics from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2001. She served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1991 to 2012 as an intelligence analyst and manpower operations officer. Her career experience also includes working as an operations manager at the Lorenzana Law Firm.
Jack White, a partner at Fluet Huber + Hoang, has broad expertise in government investigations, discrimination claims, constitutional matters, securities claims, white collar matters, bankruptcies, as well as a number of other civil matters. He has also advised state and local law enforcement, social services, and education chief executives on public school safety issues. Before joining Fluet Huber + Hoang, Mr. White served as a law clerk at the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit on behalf of the Honorable Samuel A. Alito Jr., who was then a judge on that court. Mr. White joined Justice Alito for a second clerkship at the U. S. Supreme Court during the 2008-2009 term. Mr. White is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and served five years as an active-duty Army officer before transferring to the U.S. Army Reserve while attending Pepperdine University School of Law. Mr. White graduated magna cum laude and served as editor-in-chief of the Pepperdine Law Review.
(Source: U.S. Army)
(Drake Lawson, Matt Zdum, Rosemond Crown, Alex Gibbs and Lauren Westbrook contributed to this story)
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