Some significant changes at Fort Hood are likely in the coming months.
That’s a logical conclusion after hearing remarks from Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, as he wrapped up a two-day visit to the Killeen-Fort Hood area Thursday.
After referring to the tragic death of Spc. Vanessa Guillen — allegedly on-post and at the hands of another Fort Hood soldier — and commenting on the post’s high rates for murder, sexual assault and harassment, McCarthy said changes were on the way.
The secretary recently ordered an independent review of the command climate at Fort Hood in the wake of Guillen’s slaying. Her death, McCarthy noted, has become a catalyst for the Army in highlighting issues of sexual harassment and assault in the military.
“We are going to put every resource and all of the energy we can in this entire institution behind fixing these problems,” the secretary said at a news conference on post.
The problems, he acknowledged, were Army-wide, and said the service is committed to taking a hard look at itself — and that there has been a reckoning.
Certainly, taking responsibility for both post-specific and institutional problems is commendable, and committing to address those problems is even more laudable.
But ensuring that the changes are instituted and embraced by personnel at all levels of the military will be a true measure of their effectiveness.
The key to making that happen will be to gather as much information as possible, and use it to craft practical, pragmatic reforms.
During his visit, McCarthy conducted what he termed “candid” listening sessions with nine groups of soldiers on post Wednesday to get their input on the local climate — both on and off post.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the secretary met in three sessions with about 60 local residents from a variety of backgrounds, during which time McCarthy answered questions and listened to their comments about Fort Hood and community issues.
No doubt, McCarthy’s trip to Killeen was intended to send a message that the Pentagon is taking the situation seriously. Taken together with the Guillen family’s meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House the previous week, it’s clear that Fort Hood’s institutional challenges have become a top priority.
No doubt, the issues of sexual harassment and assault have been around for decades, and it’s imperative that the military address them in a substantive way.
To their credit, Fort Hood’s commanders have said they welcome an external investigation, as well as potential changes that would improve transparency, raise unit morale and give soldiers a better living and working environment.
Certainly, our men and men in uniform deserve no less.
But in focusing on these issues, we must be cognizant of the fact that Fort Hood is not isolated; rather, it is an extension of our local civilian community.
And we also must acknowledge that the post is just a microcosm of what is going on in society at-large. Problems of harassment, assault and overall crime can be found in every segment of American culture — not just the military.
What happened to Vanessa Guillen could have just as easily happened to her if she had been in a civilian job, in any city in America.
But the fact is, she was serving our nation as a soldier, and she had placed her trust, her safety and her future in the hands of the military — and that trust was irreparably, tragically broken.
That hard fact has raised her case to national prominence. And that difficult truth has caused the Army to act at the highest levels — as it should.
During his visit to Killeen, the Army secretary acknowledged that Guillen’s slaying had hit the Army hard and that the incident had left him sad and disappointed.
And he conceded, “We let Vanessa down.”
So, where do we go from here?
Simply, the Army must do everything possible to ensure that what happened to Vanessa Guillen never happens again. As the secretary said Thursday, “We must protect her legacy.”
How can we address these important issues on the local level?
First, we must continue to support our soldiers and their families to the best of our abilities — both as a community and as individuals.
Also, we must not shy from a continued commitment to condemn and eliminate sexual harassment, throughout our community — and to encourage reporting of such incidents without fear of retaliation.
We must also maintain the strong bond that exists between Fort Hood and the local community. We are community partners, and as such, Fort Hood’s challenges must be our challenges as well.
Once the Army secretary’s review is complete and local input has been analyzed, procedure and policy changes will no doubt follow. Fort Hood’s leaders will be tasked with implementing these changes and assessing their effectiveness.
Needless to say, this won’t be a one-shot fix. The challenges facing our military leaders didn’t develop overnight, and the proposed solutions likely won’t produce immediate results.
But whatever measures the Pentagon adopts can only make Fort Hood a stronger, more viable military installation.
In the end, a better post makes for a better community.
And that’s a change we should all get behind.