(NewsNation Now) — The Army on Tuesday said it had fired or suspended 14 officers and enlisted soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, and ordered policy changes to address chronic leadership failures in the wake of Vanessa Guillen’s slaying and about two dozen other deaths.
The gruesome slaying of a young soldier made waves this summer, resulting in public outrage calling for change. The killing was also catalyst for the internal investigation into Fort Hood.
“This report, without a doubt, will cause the Army to change our culture,” said Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy.
Two general officers are among those being removed from their jobs, as top Army leaders on Tuesday announced the findings of an independent panel’s investigation into problems at the Texas base.
In a 60-minute briefing at the Pentagon on Tuesday, the Army’s top brass unveiling findings from an investigation into Fort Hood’s culture. Army found that leadership pitfalls contributed to a widespread pattern of violence including murder, sexual assaults and harassment.
“The tragic death of Vanessa Guillen and a rash of other challenges at Fort Hood forced us to take a critical look at our systems, our policies and ourselves,” said McCarthy.
The 20-year-old soldier was found bludgeoned to death this summer. Guillen’s remains were discovered off base two months after she went missing. According to investigators, she was killed by a fellow soldier who Guillen’s family alleges was sexually assaulting her.
The actions, taken by Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, come in the aftermath of a year that saw 25 soldiers assigned to Fort Hood die due to suicide, homicide or accidents, including the bludgeoning death of Spc. Vanessa Guillen.
“I am gravely disappointed that leaders failed to create a climate that treated all soldiers with dignity and respect,” said McCarthy.
The firings include Army Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, who was left in charge of the base earlier this year when Guillen was killed, as well as Col. Ralph Overland, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment commander and his Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Knapp. Among those suspended were Maj. Gen. Jeffery Broadwater, the 1st Cavalry Division commander, and his Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas C. Kenny. The administrative actions are expected to trigger investigations that could lead to a wide range of punishments. Those punishments could go from a simple letter of reprimand to a military discharge.
The Army did not provide the names of the other lower-ranking soldiers who face possible discipline.
The base commander, Army Lt. Gen. Pat White, will not face any administrative action. He was deployed to Iraq as the commander there for much of the year.
McCarthy also ordered a new Army policy that changes how commanders deal with missing soldiers, requiring them to list service members as absent-unknown for up to 48 hours and to do everything they can to locate the service members to determine if their absence is voluntary or not before declaring anyone AWOL, or absent without leave.
Army leaders had already delayed Efflandt’s planned transfer to Fort Bliss, where he was slated to take over leadership of the 1st Armored Division. Command of a division is a key step in an Army officer’s career.
Efflandt’s move to the division was paused while the team of independent investigators conducted its probe into whether leadership failures contributed to the killings of several people, including Guillen, and who should be held accountable.
Army leaders and members of the independent panel acknowledged that the death of Guillen, 20, earlier this year was a catalyst for a deeper look into what have been longstanding crime and other problems at the base.
According to investigators, Guillen was bludgeoned to death at Fort Hood by Spc. Aaron Robinson, who killed himself on July 1 as police were trying to take him into custody. Her family has said Robinson sexually harassed her, though the Army has said there is no evidence supporting that claim.
Also in July, the body of Pvt. Mejhor Morta was found near a reservoir by the base. And in June, officials discovered the remains of another missing soldier, Gregory Morales, about 10 miles from that lake.
They said female soldiers told them they were afraid of retaliation for complaints, including fears they would be moved to other jobs, their confidentiality would be compromised and their careers would be derailed. They also complained about long delays in investigations, and many said they didn’t report incidents of sexual assault or harassment due to lack of confidence in the program.
Panel member Carrie Ricci, a retired member of the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corp who served for three years at Fort Hood, had a message to the female soldiers there.
“One of the things that the Fort Hood soldiers—what many of them needed, was to be believed,” said Ricci. “And that was what we did, we listened. So if any of them see this, I want them to know that we believe you.”
Chris Swecker, the committee chairman and retired head of the FBI’s criminal investigation division, said the panel concluded there was a significant lack of emphasis on the sexual assault response program, and that, more broadly, Fort Hood has a serious crime problem that largely goes unaddressed. He said commanders are guilty more of “acts of omission” rather than acts of commission.
“There aren’t an anomalous number of death cases at Fort Hood in terms of homicides, but the homicides that did occur got intense media attention,” said Swecker.
Swecker said there was little visible deterrent or plan to prevent crimes that range from assaults to drug use. Fort Hood, he said, has the highest rate of positive drug tests in the Army.
At Fort Hood, White told reporters that the panel’s report gave him a “historically unprecedented” granular look at the base’s problems, and “what was made abundantly clear is that we have to fix our culture.” He said he will immediately implement some of the report’s suggested actions and has already held two sexual assault review board meetings. He also said he ordered a ”compassion team” to meet with all of the soldiers who were fired or suspended.
In total, there are about 65,000 soldiers at Fort Hood. Army leaders said on Tuesday that this problem transcends that number and affects the entire Army of one million soldiers, hundreds of thousands of civilian employees, and their families. Beginning Wednesday, senior leaders will be briefed on moving forward. Implementation of new systemic policies can be expected in March of 2021.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.