SPONSORED:

Army secretary announces multiple firings, suspensions after investigation at Fort Hood

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyAlarming threat prompts early exit, underscoring security fears Five takeaways from dramatic Capitol security hearing DC Guard chief agrees 'optics' slowed deployment during Capitol riot MORE on Tuesday announced the firing and suspension of numerous officers and enlisted soldiers at Fort Hood in a sweeping disciplinary action to address widespread sexual harassment and violence, suicides and murder at the troubled Texas base.

McCarthy said 14 leaders at Fort Hood have been relieved or suspended from their position, a move that comes after an independent review of the base’s command was ordered to review years of sexual assault and violence.

“I have determined the issues at Fort Hood are directly related to leadership failures. I am ... disappointed that leaders failed to effectively create a climate that treated all soldiers with dignity and respect and have failed to reinforce every ones’ obligation to prevent and properly respond to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault,” McCarthy told reporters at the Pentagon.

ADVERTISEMENT

The removals are a direct result of the independent review, released on Tuesday, which scrutinized the base’s command climate and culture. McCarthy ordered the look after the discovery of the remains of Pfc. Vanessa Guillen, 20, who went missing in April before her body was discovered in early July. 

The Army earlier this year removed Fort Hood’s commander, Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt — who was leading the base when Guillen went missing — dropping him down to deputy and barring him from a planned position at another Texas base. But Efflandt has now been relieved altogether, in addition to Col. Ralph Overland and Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Knapp, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment commander and command sergeant major.

McCarthy also directed the suspension of Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Broadwater and Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas C. Kenny, the 1st Cavalry Division commanding general and command sergeant major, respectively, pending the outcome of a new Army investigation of the division’s command climate and Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program. 

The base commander, Lt. Gen. Pat White, was deployed to Iraq for much of the year and will not face any administrative action, McCarthy said. 

The service will not release the names of the battalion level and below commanders and leaders who received administrative action "as matter of policy and to protect individual privacy."

In addition to the staffing changes, McCarthy also announced a new Army policy on missing soldiers, focused on tracking and finding a soldier in the first 48 hours after they fail to report for duty.

ADVERTISEMENT

The policy alters the practice of immediately declaring a soldier as AWOL, or absent without leave, instead changing their duty status to “absent-unknown” for up to 48 hours while determining if they went missing voluntarily or not.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville, who spoke alongside McCarthy, said he spoke to Guillen’s mother on Tuesday morning and told her “we’re going to fix these issues and change the culture that allowed them to happen.”

McConville and McCarthy will also brief the Army senior leaders on the report on Wednesday and “will ensure it is understood and our plan to move forward will be implemented throughout the Army.”

“This report, without a doubt, will cause the Army to change our culture,” McCarthy said.

The new report was compiled over 103 days during which the panel surveyed 31,612 soldiers, interviewed 647, and met with civil, elected and local law enforcement leaders, as well as local district attorneys.

The findings identified major flaws with the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program, fundamental issues with the Fort Hood criminal investigation arm, and a command climate at Fort Hood that was permissive of sexual harassment and sexual assault, McCarthy said.

He noted that the Army had created a task force to map out a plan to tackle the report’s nine findings and 70 recommendations and will begin to implement them by March 2021.

Fort Hood has long struggled to quell a steady stream of violence at the installation, where roughly 36,500 soldiers are assigned.

An average of 129 felonies were committed annually at the base between 2014 and 2019 - including cases of homicide, sexual assault, kidnapping, robbery and aggravated assault, according to Army data - and 28 soldiers have died this year alone at the post.

In the death of Guillen, one of the most high-profile cases, Army officials suspect another soldier, Aaron David Robinson, of bludgeoning her to death, though he committed suicide a day after her body was discovered.

Guillen’s sister said before she went missing she had revealed that she was victim of sexual harassment but never reported it out of fear of retaliation.

Other incidents that have garnered national attention include the disappearances and discoveries of the bodies of Sgt. Elder Fernandes, 23, Pvt. Mejhor Morta, 26, and Pfc. Gregory Morales, 24.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Army is also opening a separate investigation into the 6th Military Police Group's Criminal Investigation Command, which conducts criminal investigations of serious, sensitive, or special interest matters.

“Accountability and transparency are foundational as we move forward,” McCarthy said. “We have a great deal of work ahead of us. This is an initial step to addressing and facing these issues.”

Updated at 2:24 p.m.