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Fort Hood Investigation Disciplines 14 High-Level Commanders

After a month-long investigation into a culture of sexual harassment, the U.S. Army either fired or suspended 14 Army officials, including several high-ranking leaders. The Army’s report, released on 8 December, revealed its findings about Fort Hood in Texas and an ineffective and unsupported program meant to prevent and investigate incidents of sexual harassment and assault.

The investigation began after 20-year-old Army specialist Vanessa Guillen was found murdered, her body burned and dismembered, on 30 June. Guillen had confided to friends that she had been sexually harassed before she disappearing while on the base on 22 April. Guillen’s death was not an isolated incident—this past year Fort Hood has been linked to a spate of violent deaths (suicides and homicides) and reports of sexual harassment.

Authorities later determined that Guillen had been killed by a soldier in her own unit, who enlisted his girlfriend to help him dispose of her body. When approached by police, the soldier killed himself.

But while the police were tracking down Guillen’s killers, the Army was looking into the environment that led to her murder, uncovering an entire culture of sexual harassment, bullying, and violence that was either ignored or passively permitted by non-commissioned officers leading and setting the tone for enlisted men and women. The investigation was led by the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee.

One of the report’s most significant findings was that not a single “commanding general or subordinate echelon commander chose to intervene proactively and mitigate known risks of high crime, sexual assault, and sexual harassment.” Although Fort Hood maintained the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Program, the investigation found that a lack of support—both financially and from those in command—made it “ineffective, to the extent that there was a permissive environment for sexual assault and sexual harassment.”

Without any confidence in a system purported to help them, women on the base were subject to the harassment but uncomfortable and afraid to report it. Guillen was not alone in her fear of reporting the harassment, of not trusting her superiors. The investigation interviewed 507 female soldiers, and of that group, “the team identified 93 credible accounts of sexual assault and 135 credible instances of sexual harassment.” Only 59 of the incidents of sexual assault were reported, while some of the unreported assaults “were extremely serious and had significant impact on the victim’s health and well-being…and many described having to see the (predator) working in the same or nearby unit,” the report said.

But because of the climate at the base, “victims feared the inevitable consequences of reporting: ostracism, shunning and shaming, harsh treatment, and indelible damage to their career. Many have left the Army or plan to do so at the earliest opportunity. …There was a conspicuous absence of an effective risk management approach to crime incident reduction and Soldier victimization.” Ultimately, this pushed victims into a constant state of stress, having to always operate in “survival mode.”

However, the report found that a lack of support for soldiers subjected to such assault and harassment was not Fort Hood’s only problem. The site, essentially a gated community sprawling out between Dallas and Austin, is the country’s third-most populous Army base; yet, Fort Hood maintained higher crime levels than other Army sites.

“This review determined that violent sex crimes and other sex crimes, violent felonies, assault and battery, drug offenses, drunk and disorderly, larceny and other misdemeanors, desertions, and AWOL were all higher at Fort Hood,” the report said, when compared to the U.S. Army Forces Command averages for the past four years. When crime rates from 2015 to 2020 were compared, the investigation found that Fort Hood’s rates of violent sex crimes were 30.6 percent higher than U.S. Army Forces Command averages and 43.2 percent higher than the Army. The investigation found that “various inefficiencies” impacting the base’s Criminal Investigation Division, including an “unstable, under-experienced, over-assigned, and under-resourced” workforce contributed to these issues but were also the consequences of issues beyond the base.

The 14 officials facing the consequences of the investigation include Maj. Gen. Scott L. Efflandt, senior commander in charge at Fort Hood at the time of Guillen’s disappearance, who was relieved of his leadership duties; and Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Broadwater, commander of the First Cavalry Division, suspended pending further investigation. Also relieved of their duty were Col. Ralph Overland, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Knapp.  

U.S. Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy said that the Army was committed to reforms throughout the entire organization.

Since the redacted report’s release, some U.S. lawmakers praised the Army and McCarthy for the investigation, and others have called for additional assessments into the base.