FORT BRAGG, Texas – U.S. Army officials announced Tuesday that a total of 14 Fort Hood officers and enlisted soldiers have been either fired or suspended following an investigation into the violence that has plagued the base this year.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told reporters that the disciplinary actions are the result of a review by an independent panel of civilians, who were appointed to examine the command climate at the Texas base following the high-profile April 22 killing and disappearance of Spc. Vanessa Guillen.
Guillen’s brutal death prompted multiple protests and demands for action by military officials and congressional leaders.
“I have determined the issues at Fort Hood are directly related to leadership failures,” McCarthy said. “I am gravely disappointed that leaders failed to effectively create a climate that treated all soldiers with dignity and respect, and that failed to reinforce everyone’s obligation to prevent and properly respond to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault.”
Watch Tuesday’s news conference at the Pentagon below.
Along with the firings and suspensions, McCarthy also ordered the implementation of a new Army policy that requires commanders to list missing soldiers as “absent-unknown” for up to 48 hours, The Associated Press reported. Leaders must also do everything possible to locate the missing soldier and determine if they are gone voluntarily before declaring them absent without leave, or AWOL.
One Fort Hood soldier, Pvt. Gregory Wedel Morales, was declared AWOL following his August 2019 disappearance, despite his family’s certainty that he was the victim of foul play. Morales’ skeletal remains were found earlier this year during the search for the missing Guillen.
Guillen, 20, was bludgeoned to death by a fellow soldier in an arms room on the base, military officials said earlier this year. Her dismembered and burned remains were found more than two months later, buried in multiple shallow graves near the Leon River, about 30 miles from the Texas base.
The suspected killer, Spc. Aaron David Robinson, killed himself as federal and local investigators closed in. Robinson’s civilian girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, 22, of Killeen, is charged with conspiracy to tamper with evidence for allegedly helping him dispose of Guillen’s body.
McCarthy said Tuesday that Guillen’s killing “shocked (military officials’) conscience and brought attention to deeper problems.”
“The initial investigation into Vanessa’s death, coupled with high numbers of crimes and deaths at Fort Hood, has revealed a series of missteps and multiple failures in our system and within our leadership,” McCarthy said.
Guillen was one of more than two dozen Fort Hood soldiers to die by homicide, suicide or accident this year. The Houston native’s claims to her family that she had been sexually harassed by superiors at Fort Hood also prompted authorities to examine how claims of sexual harassment were being handled by high-ranking officials there.
The independent review found widespread problems at the base, which is the Army’s second-largest military installation behind Fort Bragg. Those problems included the failure to properly investigate crimes and a command climate that allowed an environment rife with accusations of sexual assault and harassment.
Along with Guillen, a second soldier reported missing this year, Sgt. Elder Fernandes, had reported being the victim of sexual abuse. Fernandes, 23, vanished Aug. 17 after seeing friends at a home in Killeen.
Fernandes was found hanging from a tree Aug. 25 in Temple, Texas. Foul play was not suspected in his death.
The Washington Post reported that Maj. Gen. Scott L. Efflandt, who commanded Fort Hood at the time of Guillen’s death, was one of the officers relieved of duty. Efflandt, who was due earlier this year to take over leadership of the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, had already seen that transfer delayed pending the outcome of the investigation.
Also relieved of their leadership duties are Col. Ralph Overland, the commander of Guillen’s unit, and Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Knapp of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, the Post reported.
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Broadwater and Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas C. Kenny have been suspended pending the outcome of a probe into the 1st Cavalry Division’s command climate and its sexual harassment and assault prevention program.
The base commander, Lt. Gen. Pat White, was deployed to Iraq for much of 2020 and is not facing disciplinary action, according to the AP.
Gen. James C. McConville, the Army chief of staff, called the Guillen family ahead of Tuesday’s announcement to inform them of the disciplinary actions, the family told the newspaper.
“Your daughter was tragically murdered in our hands, and I’m responsible for that. We are responsible for that,” McConville told Guillen’s mother, according to the family.
The AP reported that the firings and suspensions are expected to trigger further investigations and punishment.
McCarthy told Army Times this summer that Fort Hood had the highest rate of some violent crimes, including murder, of any Army installation.
“The numbers are high here,” McCarthy said. “They are the highest, in most cases, for sexual assault and harassment and murders for our entire formation — the U.S. Army.”
Fort Hood is the largest active-duty armored post in the U.S., with nearly 40,000 soldiers stationed there, officials said. It is smaller than Fort Bragg, which has 57,000 military personnel but a lower crime rate.
Despite the lower violent crime rate, Fort Bragg has also made headlines for killings this year. Last week, the bodies of Master Sgt. William J. Lavigne II, 37, and Army veteran Timothy Dumas, 44, of Pinehurst, North Carolina, were found in a training area of the base.
The deaths, in which foul play is suspected, called attention to the disappearance and killing of a Fort Bragg paratrooper who vanished May 22 while on a camping trip with fellow soldiers at the Cape Lookout National Seashore.
The head of Army Spc. Enrique Roman-Martinez, 21, washed ashore a week later. His killing remains unsolved.
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