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Army fires, suspends 14 Fort Hood soldiers over handling of sexual violence following Vanessa Guillen's death

14 Fort Hood leaders were relieved of duty or suspended in response to an independent review committee's investigation launched after Vanessa Guillen's death.

FORT HOOD, Texas — An independent review conducted in the wake of Pfc. Vanessa Guillen’s death on Fort Hood found “a deficient climate at Fort Hood, including ineffective implementation of the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program,” according to the report released Tuesday.

Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville spoke from the Pentagon.

The five-member review committee, which conducted 2,500 interviews with soldiers and Army civilians, offered nine findings and 70 recommendations to address flaws in the SHARP program along with the reporting of missing soldiers.

“The challenges at Fort Hood forced us to take a critical look at our systems, our policies, and ourselves,” said McCarthy. “This is not just about metrics, but about possessing the ability to show compassion for our teammates and to look out for the best interest of our Soldiers. This report, without a doubt, will cause the Army to change our culture.”

Committee member Queta Rodriguez said they conducted 647 individual interviews and of those 503 were women.

Rodriguez said they received 93 credible accounts of sexual assault, only 59 of which were reported. She said they received 217 credible accounts of sexual harassment.

McCarthy said 14 Army leaders on Fort Hood were relieved or suspended.

Maj. Gen. Scott L. Efflandt, deputy commanding general (Support), III Corps; and Col. Ralph Overland and Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Knapp, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment commander and command sergeant major were all relieved of duty.

The secretary also directed the suspension of Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Broadwater and Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas C. Kenny, 1st Cavalry Division commanding general and command sergeant major, pending the outcome of a new Army Regulation (AR) 15-6 investigation of 1st Cavalry Division’s command climate and Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program.  

The names of the battalion level and below commanders and leaders who received administrative action were not released.

Among the committee's findings were:

  • "Strong evidence that incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment at Fort Hood are significantly underreported.”
  • “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 command climate at Fort Hood has been permissive of sexual harassment / sexual assault.”

The full report can be read at the bottom of this article.

McCarthy also laid out a comprehensive plan to change the policy of how soldiers are reported missing, including the creation of an additional duty status code called “absent unknown” (AUN).

Soldiers will be reported AUN for up to 48 hours to allow their unit and law enforcement to help find the soldier, according to the report. Previously, soldiers who were absent for unknown reasons for listed as “absent without leave” (AWOL).

Under the new policy, which is intended to ensure the Army maximizes efforts to find missing soldiers, commanders must determine by a preponderance of evidence that a Soldier’s absence is voluntary to classify their duty status as AWOL, the report said.

“In response to the committee’s findings, the Army created the “People First Task Force” to study the recommendations and map out a plan to tackle them,” McCarthy said.

Immediately following the briefing, the five members of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee discussed the report's findings and recommendations.

The panel members, appointed by McCarthy in July and led by Chris Swecker, also include Jonathan Harmon, Carrie Ricci, Queta Rodriguez and Jack White. McCarthy said their goal was to understand the root causes of felonies and violent acts.

“Soldiers assaulting and harassing other soldiers is contrary to Army values and requires a dramatic change in culture,” Swecker, said. “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."

The details of the new missing soldier policy can be read at the bottom of this article.

Following the Pentagon briefing, III Corps and Fort Hood Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Pat White held a briefing on Fort Hood. The Fort Hood Press Center said White will "provide an update on the People First Initiative to build trust and cohesive teams."

White said the initiative would give leaders back time to focus on those who they lead. He said more than 4 million man-hours were pulled from the schedule to give leaders their time back.

White said he would take the findings and recommendations of the committee and carry out those that were within the scope of his authority.

"We'll address the challenges head-on and lead our army forward," White said.

White also addressed the problem of soldiers not reporting sexual assault or harassment, saying he gave everyone who wanted it his phone number if they wanted to report a problem.

White said the 14 leaders who were relieved of duty or suspended learned about the actions Tuesday.

Houston Rep. Sylvia Garcia, who has led an effort to get a bill passed that would allow soldiers to report sexual harassment and assault outside of the chain of command, said the committee's report does not give soldiers a "truly confidential way to report sexual violence."

"There are still unanswered questions about what the Army and the military as a whole will do to have culturally competent and linguistically inclusive best-practices when engaging families in missing soldier cases," Garcia said.

The military briefings were followed by a press conference at 3 p.m. CDT in Houston with Guillen's family and their attorney Natalie Khawam, according to her office. They were joined by billionaire Tilman Fertitta, Houston's Chief of Police Art Acevedo and others.

Khawam said McConville and McCarthy shared the results of the report before it was made public.

6 News streamed each press conference here and on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

The panel was asked to review Fort Hood’s climate and culture to determine if it reflected the Army's values, including safety, respect, inclusiveness, and a commitment to diversity, and workplaces and communities free from sexual harassment.

During a visit to Fort Hood on Aug. 6, McCarthy said the panel would report its findings to a team chaired by Under Secretary of the Army James McPherson and Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Joseph Martin.

WHERE IS VANESSA?

Guillen was last seen April 22 between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. in the parking lot of her regimental engineer squadron headquarters on Fort Hood.

Her car keys, room key, identification card and wallet were found in the armory room where she was working earlier in the day. 

As the weeks of searching for Guillen dragged on, her family led protests every Friday outside Fort Hood. They called for transparency and said the leadership failed to react quickly enough after her disappearance.

Fort Hood initially offered a $15,000 reward for information that would lead to her whereabouts. They increased the reward to $25,000 on June 15 then increased it to $50,000.

6 News obtained surveillance footage from Taqueria Mexico on East Rancier Ave. June 17 that showed Guillen going into the restaurant on April 15, one week before she disappeared. The owner said she was a frequent customer but that she didn’t seem like herself that day.

Texas Equusearch, local authorities, family and friends and the Army Criminal Investigation Division all took part in searches around Bell County and on Fort Hood.

THE SUSPECTS

It wasn’t until June 30, when her dismembered remains were found in a shallow grave near the Leon River in Bell County.

RELATED: Vanessa Guillen killed with hammer and her body mutilated, affidavit says

Texas Equusearch, led by Tim Miller, searched that same area one week earlier but Miller said the remains were concealed well enough that cadaver dogs did not find them.

It was just hours later, when authorities tracked down the suspects.

According to a criminal complaint, Spc. Aaron Robinson shot and killed himself as Killeen police approached him in the early morning hours of July 1.

The complaint said Robinson killed Guillen April 22 in an armory room on post, then with the help of his girlfriend Cecily Aguilar, dismembered her body and buried the remains.

The complaint also alleges Robinson and Aguilar returned to the scene on April 26 with hairnets and gloves.

The two uncovered the remains and "continued the process of breaking down the remains of the dead female," the complaint said.

Aguilar was arrested and charged with conspiracy to tamper with evidence. Her trial was set for Jan. 19.

RELATED: Cecily Aguilar hearing, trial delayed again

#IAMVANESSAGUILLEN

Guillen's family said she told them she was sexually harassed but she did not report it to her superiors for fear of retaliation. Fort Hood investigators said they found no evidence supporting the claim.

Still, Guillen’s story launched a nationwide awareness campaign to expose sexual assault and harassment in the military with former and current servicemembers coming forward on social media to share their stories.

Guillen's family, along with their attorney Natalie Khawam, lobbied for the creation of the I Am Vanessa Guillen bill. It would allow soldiers to report sexual harassment and assault to a third party outside their chain of command.

The bill was introduced in the House by California Rep. Jackie Speier (D) on Sept. 16 with bi-partisan support, including Houston Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D) and Central Texas Rep. John Carter (R).

U.S. Senator John Cornyn released the following statement in response to the report released by the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee today:

“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. I’ve asked the Senate Armed Services Committee to conduct hearings and determine if is this an isolated incident or if this is more broad or systemic within our military installations. This is a very, very serious matter. This is not going to be swept under the rug.”

Guillen’s family met with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on July 30. Trump said they had his full support.

"We won't stop and hopefully something very positive will come out in honor of your sister and your daughter,” Trump said.

But during a press conference in November, Guillen’s mother, Gloria, criticized the President for what she called a lack of action on his part.

“The president didn’t do anything, Guillen said. “He lost and he didn’t do anything. He only lied. The secretary of defense didn’t do anything either."

A VIOLENT YEAR

Guillen was one of five Fort Hood soldiers to die either by homicide or under suspicious circumstances starting with the disappearance of Pvt. Gregory Morales on Aug. 19, 2019.

"The numbers are high here," McCarthy said in August. "They are the highest in most cases for sexual assault and harassment and murders for our entire formation, the U.S. Army."

During the search for Guillen’s remains, Morales’ remains were found in Killeen on June 19. The Army Criminal Investigation Division said foul play was suspected in his death.

Killeen police are the lead agency looking into Morales’ death. The Southwest Institute of Forensic Science in Dallas conducted the autopsy. The results were under an investigative hold by the Bell County District Attorney’s office as of Dec 8.

RELATED: Deaths, disappearances on Fort Hood under review by multiple congressional committees

Pfc. Brandon Rosecrans, 28, was killed in Harker Heights. Police said Brandon Olivares, 28, shot Rosecrans four times then left his body on the side of road in the 2100 block of Fuller Lane on the morning of May 18.

Olivares was arrested and charged with murder in August.

Spc. Shelby Jones, 20, was shot and killed March 1 at Club Dreams in Killeen.

Jones was assigned to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment in August 2018. Killeen police said Jones’ case was presented to a grand jury June 10 and they chose to take no action.

"The Grand Jury voted to take no action and the DA declined to prosecute," said KPD Spokeswoman Ofelia Miramontez. "If new information/evidence becomes available the case can always be reopened but at this time there is no ongoing investigation."

Miramontez said the suspect's name would not be released because there was no indictment.

Spc. Freddy Beningo Delacruz Jr. was one of three people killed in an apartment on March 14, according to an arrest affidavit.

Police said Delacruz, Shaquan Markell Allred and Asia Cline were all shot multiple times by Barnard Morrow.

Morrow was not arrested until Aug. 28 when a U.S. Marshals Task Force tracked him down in Newton, MS. He was charged with capital murder.

LEADERSHIP CHANGE

Gen. Michael X. Garrett, commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, assigned Maj. Gen. John B. Richardson IV on Sept. 1 to formally assume duties as deputy commanding general for operations of III Corps and acting senior commander of Fort Hood.

Richardson replaced Efflandt who remained on Fort Hood to assist with the reintegration of III Corps when they returned from Operation Inherent Resolve, according to Army Public Affairs.

Efflandt was supposed to be transferred to Fort Bliss in El Paso to lead the 1st Armored Division. The Army delayed that move on Aug. 8.

Garrett also appointed Gen. John Murray, commanding general of Army Futures Command, to lead an in-depth investigation into the chain of command actions related to Guillen’s case. Murray’s investigation is separate from the civilian panel’s review.

White met with the Guillen family for the first time in person on Nov. 10 to review design concepts for a gate that will be named in Guillen’s honor. White said the gate leads to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment where Guillen served.

Tuesday afternoon, White spoke to all the soldiers on post at Fort Hood. He addressed the importance of working together to fix all the issues and safety at Fort Hood.

"'We are not going to fix some of the challenges here on Fort Hood until you get on board," White said.

White said that if any soldier has never reported sexual harassment that they have endured, to report it now. Also, he said he wants to know why the incident wasn't reported in the past.

"We have got to work together to build trust," White said. "Thank you for your service to our nation and thank you for the sacrifices you make every day."