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After Vanessa Guillen’s Death, Fort Hood Command Culture Found to Be ‘Permissive’ of Sexual Harassment and Assault


Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy and other officials have announced the findings of an investigation into the culture at Fort Hood in Texas. He said that investigators made nine findings and 70 recommendations. Authorities found major flaws and issues, including with how sexual harassment and assault were addressed. Command culture at the military base was “permissive” of sexual harassment and sexual assault, McCarthy said.

“The tragic death of Vanessa Guillen, and the rash of other challenges at Fort Hood forced us to take a critical look at our systems, our policies, and ourselves, but without leadership, systems don’t matter,” he said in a press conference on Tuesday. “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 interest of our soldiers.”

Fort Hood drew immense scrutiny after Spc. Vanessa Guillen, 20 (posthumously promoted from private) went missing on April 22. Her family said she told them about being sexually harassed, and that she was afraid to report it. Her body was found at the end of June. Investigators said that Spc. Aaron David Robinson, 20, ended up fleeing Fort Hood, and shot himself when confronted by authorities. Cecily Aguilar, 22—his girlfriend and the estranged wife of a former Fort Hood soldier–allegedly claimed that Robinson told her that he confessed to fatally hitting the victim in the head multiple times with a hammer in an arms room. According to officials, she asserted that the killer recruited her to help dismember and hide the remains.

Other recent high-profile deaths around Fort Hood included Pvt. Mejhor Morta, 26 (later determined to be an accidental drowning), and Sgt. Elder Fernandes, 23 (who died by suicide). Fernandes had made a sexual abuse claim, but faced harassment after reporting it, according to Natalie Khawam, an attorney for both his family and Guillen’s.

The Army has said they found no evidence of Robinson harassing Guillen. Nonetheless, they now say there was a pattern of troubling attitudes among command at Fort Hood.

“Leaders drive culture, and are responsible for everything the unit does or does not happen to do,” McCarthy said.

He announced he would accept the findings at a whole. For example, there would be a new missing soldier policy to track and find missing servicemembers, clarify expectations for unit commanders, and to better determine whether the absence is voluntary or not.

The Army would have to change its culture, McCarthy said. Implementation of the reforms would begin by March 2021. Then again, changing the system for the long-haul is a completely different challenge from simply acknowledging issues. For some years now, the U.S. military has had a public struggle dealing with internal problems regarding sexual harassment, sexual assault, and associated retaliation within its ranks.

[Image via U.S. Army]

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