Following the publication of the 136-page report by the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee, Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy announced today that he relieved or suspended 14 Fort Hood officers and soldiers.
“Leaders, regardless of rank, are accountable for what happens in their units and must have the courage to speak up and intervene when they recognize actions that bring harm to our soldiers and to the integrity of our institutions.”
The independent review came in light of the murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen. Last seen in April, her body was found on June 30. Spc. Aaron David Robinson reportedly murdered Guillen after he found out she planned to file a sexual harassment claim against him. He shot himself and died when approached by investigators. Cecily Aguilar, who was indicted for helping dispose of Guillen’s body, is awaiting trial.
I just spoke about my vote for the #NDAA, which addresses military sexual assault/harassment, promotes racial/gender equity & has pay increases & greater support for child care & other family needs. Today's Fort Hood report shows we must do more for our troops & their families. pic.twitter.com/d65sMnaaU1
— Jackie Speier (@RepSpeier) December 8, 2020
Five civilians comprised the panel, which was directed by McCarthy. The three-month long examination of Fort Hood found strong evidence that sexual assault and harassment are significantly underreported and the command climate has been permissive of such abuses. The report outlined a series of recommendations, including an overhaul of their sexual harassment/assault response program ( known as SHARP).
“Soldiers assaulting and harassing other soldiers is both corrosive to esprit de corps and contrary to good order and discipline. Worse, it is contrary to Army Values,” the committee explained.
While contrary to their values, sexual trauma has long been pervasive across the military. In just 2018, the Defense Department estimated 20,500 instances of sexual assault across all branches. Even before Guillen’s death brought a renewed spotlight to the systemic problem, 2012 documentary “The Invisible War” detailed the pervasiveness of violent sexual assault in the military.
According to The Associated Press, McCarthy fired three top commanders: Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, Col. Ralph Overland and Sgt. Maj. Bradley Knapp. Those suspended include Maj. Gen. Jeffery Broadwater and Sgt. Maj. Thomas C. Kenny. Under their leadership, 25 soldiers died in one year due to suicide, homicide or accidents, including Guillen. Administrative punishments remain uncertain for such failings.
In addition to the firings, McCarthy instituted a new missing soldiers policy and formed the People First Task Force, which began October 19. Such actions are the first steps in obtaining justice for Guillen and the many other soldiers like her.