Fort Hood will soon see an independent review panel ordered by the Department of the Army to look into the command climate and culture at the installation.
The review comes after members of Congress and the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, called for the Army to investigate the post after the death of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, a 3rd Cavalry Regiment soldier.
Incidents such as the alleged sexual harassment of Guillen prior to her death, an uptick in suicides and racial tensions prompted Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville, Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and Sergeant Major of the Army Michael A. Grinston to host a Facebook live town hall to answer specific questions on these topics.
“These three very difficult issues have plagued us for years, but in the recent seven months, it has hit a crisis point with the deaths of Mr. George Floyd and Spc. Vanessa Guillen,” said Secretary McCarthy at the virtual town hall. “These are things we have to address and take very quick and decisive action on.”
McConville, who attended the unit memorial for Guillen on Fort Hood July 17, said he was honored to have met her family.
“Quite frankly, they are very angry, they are heartbroken and they are in a lot of pain, because they sent us their daughter and … we didn’t take care of her,” the Chief of Staff said. “We have to find out what happened, we have to make sure that something never happens like that to one of our soldiers.”
Issues such as Guillen and the case of Pvt. Gregory Wedel-Morales — another Fort Hood soldier whose remains were found during the search for Guillen — are at the heart of the upcoming independent review.
Although not yet fully selected, once the members of the review panel are chosen, the Army will be able to lock in a timeline of when they will arrive at Fort Hood, said Lt. Col Jamie Dobson, spokeswoman for the Under Secretary of the Army.
“We will balance the need to conduct this review quickly; however, not at the expense of thoroughness,” Dobson said.
The purpose of the independent review is to determine whether the command climate and culture at Fort Hood, and in the surrounding military community, reflects the Army’s values, Dobson said. Those values include safety, respect, inclusiveness, a commitment to diversity and workplaces and communities free from sexual harassment, she said.
“The team will review historical data, such as command climate surveys, Inspector General reports, criminal and military justice reports and Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Response Program statistics,” she said. “Additionally, the panel will conduct interviews with military members of all ranks, civilians and, as needed, members of the local community, including government leaders and law enforcement officials.”
The panel will have the authority to look into all units on Fort Hood, from III Corps down to small unit levels, she said.
“The Army is committed to taking care of our soldiers, civilians and families,” Dobson said. “The Secretary of the Army directed this independent review as a means of ensuring the environment at Fort Hood is one where all who live and work there feel safe and everyone is treated with dignity and respect.”
That includes leaders at all levels within the Army to actually listen to their soldiers and hear what they are saying, the Sergeant Major of the Army said.
“The soldiers on Fort Hood that I talked to (from Guillen’s unit) were really dealing with a lot of anguish at the death of one of their fellow soldiers,” Grinston said. “We have to listen, and we need to take action. Don’t just stand by do something about it.”
The Secretary of the Army’s office will provide an update on the independent review once the panel is hired and the timeline is set, she said.
Three state representatives also came from across the state to Killeen on Friday to show their support for Guillen and her family.
State Reps. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, César Blanco, D-El Paso, and Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, were all present for the weekly rally near the intersection of West Rancier Avenue and North Fort Hood Street, near Fort Hood’s east gate.
Blanco said he will be refiling bills he has authored to protect victims and witnesses of military sexual assault in the Texas military.
“We need change,” Blanco said. “We need to make sure that the victims of assault and harassment have the ability to report to a third party outside the chain of command, and that third party has teeth to enforce.”
Blanco has previously introduced similar legislation in the 85th Texas Legislative Session, but they did not go through.
The new legislation, which he plans to introduce in January, will be named after Guillen, he said.
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