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Army Punishes 14 Fort Hood Leaders, Says Climate On Base Permitted Sex Crimes And Violence

After numerous high-profile deaths and disappearances shook Fort Hood this year, an independent civilian review board found systemic leadership failures on the base.

Larissa Martinez of the organization Circle of Arms takes photos at the unveiling of a San Antonio mural. It pays tribute to Vanessa Guillen and Gregory Wedel Morales, two Fort Hood soldiers who were found dead near the base in separate incidents this year.

An independent investigation into a number of deaths at Fort Hood in recent months — including the murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillén — found that Army leadership fostered a environment that allowed for sexual assault, harrassment and violence to go unchecked.

Hood is the Army's second-largest installation and houses about 36,000 soldiers. It has the highest amount of violent and nonviolent crime in the Army. This year alone, Fort Hood has reported five soldier homicides, more than in the past four years combined, according to Army data.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and the five civilian members of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee unveiled the results of the three-month examination of the command climate and culture at Fort Hood and the surrounding military community on Dec. 8.

Fort Hood leaders weren't proactive in trying to stop crime on the installation, the report concluded, and Army criminal investigators were inexperienced and understaffed.

The report also detailed Army leaderships' consistent failures to address known instances of sexual assault and violence through both investigating crimes and providing support to victims of assault.

"Without leadership, systems don’t matter," McCarthy said. "This is not about metrics, but about possessing the ability to have the human decency to show compassion for our teammates and to look out for the best interests of our soldiers. This report, without a doubt, will cause the Army to change our culture."

Fourteen Army leaders at Fort Hood were removed or suspended as a result of the report, including Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt and Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Broadwater. The Army did not release the names of commanders at the battalion level and below who had been punished.

"Soldiers assaulting and harassing other soldiers is contrary to Army values and requires a dramatic change in culture," committee chair Chris Swecker said Tuesday.

"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. We have recommended changes to the staffing, structure and implementation of the SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention) program at Fort Hood, and possibly beyond, to address deeply dysfunctional norms and regain soldiers' trust."

Committee members Chris Swecker, Jonathan Harmon, Carrie Ricci, Queta Rodriguez and Jack White conducted a two-week fact-finding mission to Fort Hood, meeting with unit leaders, soldiers, members of the Guillén family, local officials, law enforcement and community groups. During that review period, they conducted 2,500 interviews.

In its report, the FHIRC found a deficient climate at Fort Hood, including ineffective implementation of the SHARP program that resulted in a pervasive lack of confidence, fear of retaliation, and significant underreporting of cases, particularly within the enlisted ranks.

Fort Hood reviewer Carrie Ricci said soldiers who do report sex crimes are often met with slow or unsatisfactory resolutions, leading to greater and greater distrust.

"Once it happens with one soldier, every soldier in the unit learns of what's happening," she explained. "For the other women in that unit, they had the sense of ‘We weren't believed.' Even if they acted as witnesses."

Fort Hood leadership knew or should have known of the high risk of harm to female soldiers, according to the report.

The committee offered nine findings:

  • Finding #1: The Implementation Of The SHARP Program At Fort Hood Has Been Ineffective, Due To A Command Climate That Failed To Instill SHARP Program Core Values Below The Brigade Level.
  • Finding #2: There Is Strong Evidence That Incidents Of Sexual Assault And Sexual Harassment At Fort Hood Are Significantly Underreported.
  • Finding #3: The Army SHARP Program Is Structurally Flawed.
  • Finding #4: The Fort Hood CID Office Had Various Inefficiencies That Adversely Impacted Accomplishment Of Its Mission.
  • Finding #5: The Mechanics Of The Army's Adjudication Processes Involving Sexual Assault And Sexual Harassment Degrade Confidence In The SHARP Program.
  • Finding #6: Fort Hood Public Relations & Incident Management Have Deficiencies
  • Finding #7: There Were No Established Procedures For First Line Supervisors In ‘Failure to Report' Situations That Define Appropriate Actions In The Critical First 24 Hours.
  • Finding #8: The Criminal Environment Within Surrounding Cities And Counties Is Commensurate With Or Lower Than Similar Sized Areas: However, There Are Unaddressed Crime Problems On Fort Hood, Because The Installation Is In A Fully Reactive Posture.
  • Finding #9: The Command Climate At Fort Hood Has Been Permissive Of Sexual Harassment / Sexual Assault.

During the review period, committee member Queta Rodriguez said the committee received 93 credible accounts of sexual assault, only 59 of which were reported. She said they also received 217 credible accounts of sexual harassment.

The 136-page Report of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee offers findings and recommendations intended to apply to both Fort Hood and the entire Army.

This story originally appeared on Texas Public Radio. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.

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