The results of a command climate and culture review at Fort Hood, Texas, will lead to an Army-wide cultural change to create a safe environment free of sexual harassment and assault, senior leaders announced Dec. 8, 2020.
The Fort Hood Independent Review Committee identified nine findings and 70 recommendations after an extensive three-month evaluation, which included more than 31,000 Fort Hood community members surveyed, more than 2,500 Army personnel interviewed, and several meetings with local district attorneys and civic and law enforcement leaders.
“The findings of the committee identified major flaws with the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program from implementation, reporting and adjudication,” said Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy during a media event.
The report also identified “fundamental issues with the Fort Hood Criminal Investigation Command field office activities that lead to unaddressed problems on [the installation]; and a command climate at Fort Hood that was permissive of sexual harassment and sexual assault,” he added.
Along with the findings, the review committee recommended changes to the Army’s SHARP program structure, Army missing Soldier protocols, and Fort Hood crime prevention and response activities, McCarthy said.
“The tragic death of [Spc.] 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,” he said. “Without leadership, systems don’t matter.”
People First Task Force
Upon accepting the committee’s findings, the Army stood up the People First Task Force to address the list of reported recommendations, he said. The new task force will develop a plan of action to address the identified issues and reevaluate current Army policy and programs. Changes to Army policy could come as early as March.
“This is not about metrics, but about possessing the ability to have the human decency to show compassion for our teammates and to look out for the best interest of our Soldiers,” he said.
McCarthy directed the relief or suspension of 14 Fort Hood leaders down to the squad level based on the review’s findings, he said.
The Army has also directed new investigations into the command climate and SHARP program of the 1st Cavalry Division and Army Criminal Investigation Command’s, or CID, resourcing policies and procedures.
Further, leaders signed a new missing person directive to clarify the expectations and responsibilities of unit commanders and Army law enforcement authorities during the first 48 hours after a Soldier fails to report for duty.
An additional duty status code — absent-unknown, or AUN — is now established and will prompt unit and law enforcement actions to quickly help locate the missing individual.
“This is an initial step to addressing and fixing these issues. Even though we are part of one of the most respected institutions in the world, living up to the American people’s trust is something we have to do every day,” McCarthy said.
“I believe in this institution, its officers, noncommissioned officers, Soldiers, civilians, and their families — with every fiber of my being — because of the extraordinary things they do on a daily basis,” he added. “I’m confident in our leaders’ ability to overcome this challenge and to continue to win our nation’s wars while caring for our people.”
Fort Hood Independent Review Committee
In July, McCarthy chartered the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee to conduct a full review of the installation and the surrounding area, said Chris Swecker, the committee’s chair.
“The establishment of an independent committee of civilians to review the Army’s command actions is not unprecedented, but it is extremely rare and reflects [the Army’s] sincere desire to identify the issues and address them,” Swecker said.
The team had over 90 days to assess the impact of the command climate on the health, safety, and readiness of personnel, along with the command’s effect on preventing sexual assault, harassment, and other crimes.
The report identified Fort Hood leadership‘s ineffective execution of the SHARP program and a failure to culturally integrate SHARP throughout the enlisted ranks, where close to 90% of sexual assault victims are reported, he said.
“The committee noted that Fort Hood leadership afforded the highest priority to maintaining equipment, conducting field training, and ensuring deployment capability … at the expense of the health and safety of all Soldiers, particularly for women at the brigade level and below,” Swecker said.
Committee members interviewed about 500 female Soldiers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment and 1st Cavalry Division during the review process, Swecker added. Many individuals indicated their fear of speaking up or seeking help, as they worried about retaliation, stigmatism, or ostracism and its subsequent impact on their career or assignment.
“What we did discover, is a number of unreported sexual harassment and sexual assault incidents,” said Queta Rodriguez, a committee member. “Of the 503 women that we interviewed, we discovered 93 credible accounts of sexual assault — of those only 59 were reported. We also found 217 unreported accounts of sexual harassment.”
Many females indicated a lack of confidence in the SHARP reporting process, which significantly impacted a victim’s desire to report, Swecker added.
The committee also identified chronic understaffing and a lack of experience at the Fort Hood CID field office, he added.
“We found, that they were using Fort Hood as a training ground for CID agents,” Swecker said. “They were rotating out of Fort Leonard Wood, [Missouri], and going straight to Fort Hood [as] non-credentialed apprentice agents. Within two years, they were rotating out.”
Many of the agents working investigations were overworked and over assigned, he added. Moreover, the Fort Hood CID office lacked some of the modern investigative tools that law enforcement agencies currently employ during an investigation.
Many frontline supervisors and junior NCOs stressed not having enough time in the day to get to know their Soldiers, said Jonathan Harmon, a committee member. In turn, junior leaders failed to emphasize SHARP and other programs at the lower levels of echelon.
“Our charter was to look at Fort Hood, but we are not oblivious to the fact that this is one Army,” said Jack White, a committee member. “Fort Hood is potentially emblematic of other things going on in the Army. SHARP is an Army-wide program.”
Moving forward, Army senior leaders will continue to emphasize the role of the NCOs and first-line supervisors, Swecker said.
“The problems that we saw are cultural, and everybody is involved in culture from the highest levels to the one-on-one interaction” between a squad leader and their Soldier, he added.