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14 Fort Hood soldiers fired, suspended over violence at base following investigation of Vanessa Guillen's death

Army leaders are firing or suspending 14 officers and enlisted soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, and ordering policy changes to address chronic leadership failures
Credit: AP
FILE - In this Sept. 14, 2019, file photo U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Pat White, III Armored Corps Commanding General, center left, and Commanding General for U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. center right, take part in a transfer authority ceremony at Union III, base in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. White is the Fort Hood commander and he is facing the grim task of rebuilding trust and turning around an installation that has one of the highest rates of murder, sexual assault and harassment in the Army. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed, File)

Army leaders are firing or suspending 14 officers and enlisted soldiers at Fort Hood and ordering policy changes to address chronic leadership failures at the base that contributed to a widespread pattern of violence including murder, sexual assaults and harassment. 

Two general officers are among those being removed from their jobs, as top Army leaders announce the findings of an independent panel's investigation into problems at the base.

The actions taken by Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy come in the aftermath of a year that saw 25 soldiers assigned to Fort Hood die due to suicide, homicide or accidents, including the bludgeoning death of Spc. Vanessa Guillen.

An independent review conducted in the wake of Pfc. Vanessa Guillen’s death on Fort Hood found “a deficient climate at Fort Hood, including ineffective implementation of the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program,” according to the report released Tuesday.

RELATED: Independent review launched after Vanessa Guillen’s death finds ‘permissive environment for sexual assault, harassment’ on Fort Hood

Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville spoke Tuesday from the Pentagon.

The five-member review committee, which conducted 2,500 interviews with soldiers and Army civilians, offered nine findings and 70 recommendations to address flaws in the SHARP program along with the reporting of missing soldiers.

“The challenges at Fort Hood forced us to take a critical look at our systems, our policies, and ourselves,” said McCarthy. “This is not just about metrics, but about possessing the ability to show compassion for our teammates and to look out for the best interest of our Soldiers. This report, without a doubt, will cause the Army to change our culture.”

Among the findings was, “strong evidence that incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment at Fort Hood are significantly underreported.”

“There were no established procedures for first-line supervisors in ‘Failure to Report’ situations that define appropriate actions in the critical first 24 hours.”

“The command climate at Fort Hood has been permissive of sexual harassment / sexual assault.”

McCarthy also laid out a comprehensive plan to change the policy of how soldiers are reported missing, including the creation of an additional duty status code called “absent unknown."

Soldiers will be reported "absent unknown" for up to 48 hours to allow their unit and law enforcement to help find the soldier, according to the report. Previously, soldiers who were absent for unknown reasons for listed as “absent without leave” (AWOL).

Under the new policy, which is intended to ensure the Army maximizes efforts to find missing soldiers, commanders must determine by a preponderance of the evidence that a Soldier’s absence is voluntary to classify their duty status as AWOL, the report said.

“In response to the committee’s findings, the Army created the 'People First Task Force' to study the recommendations and map out a plan to tackle them,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said 14 Army leaders were fired or suspended.

Immediately following the briefing, the five members of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee discussed the report's findings and recommendations.

The panel members, appointed by McCarthy in July and led by Chris Swecker, also include Jonathan Harmon, Carrie Ricci, Queta Rodriguez and Jack White. McCarthy said their goal was to understand the root causes of felonies and violent acts.

“Soldiers assaulting and harassing other soldiers is contrary to Army values and requires a dramatic change in culture,” Swecker, said. “The committee determined that, during the time period covered by our review, there was a permissive environment for sexual assault and sexual harassment at Fort Hood."

Following the Pentagon briefing, III Corps and Fort Hood Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Pat White will hold a briefing on Fort Hood at 12:15 p.m. CDT. The Fort Hood Press Center said White will "provide an update on the People First Initiative to build trust and cohesive teams."

The military briefings will be followed by a press conference at 3 p.m. CDT in Houston with Guillen's family and their attorney Natalie Khawam, according to her office. They will be joined by billionaire Tilman Fertitta, Houston's Chief of Police Art Acevedo and others.

Khawam said McConville and McCarthy were going to share the results of the report before it was made public.

In a preliminary statement released Nov. 18, McCarthy said it was clear to him the Army’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program had not “achieved its mandate to eliminate sexual assaults and sexual harassment.”

The panel was asked to review Fort Hood’s climate and culture to determine if it reflected the Army's values, including safety, respect, inclusiveness, and a commitment to diversity, and workplaces and communities free from sexual harassment.

They interviewed hundreds of soldiers, along with members of the Killeen community, including Mayor Jose Segarra and Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza, according to Army Public Affairs.

During a visit to Fort Hood on Aug. 6, McCarthy said the panel would report its findings to a team chaired by Under Secretary of the Army James McPherson and Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Joseph Martin.

Where is Vanessa?

Guillen was last seen April 22 between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. in the parking lot of her regimental engineer squadron headquarters on Fort Hood.

Her car keys, room key, identification card and wallet were found in the armory room where she was working earlier in the day. 

As the weeks of searching for Guillen dragged on, her family led protests every Friday outside Fort Hood. They called for transparency and said the leadership failed to react quickly enough after her disappearance.

Fort Hood initially offered a $15,000 reward for information that would lead to her whereabouts. They increased the reward to $25,000 on June 15 then increased it to $50,000.

6 News obtained surveillance footage from Taqueria Mexico on East Rancier Ave. June 17 that showed Guillen going into the restaurant on April 15, one week before she disappeared. The owner said she was a frequent customer but that she didn’t seem like herself that day.

Texas Equusearch, local authorities, family and friends and the Army Criminal Investigation Division all took part in searches around Bell County and on Fort Hood.

The suspects

It wasn’t until June 30, when her dismembered remains were found in a shallow grave near the Leon River in Bell County.

RELATED: Vanessa Guillen killed with hammer and her body mutilated, affidavit says

Texas Equusearch, led by Tim Miller, searched that same area one week earlier but Miller said the remains were concealed well enough that cadaver dogs did not find them.

It was just hours later, when authorities tracked down the suspects.

According to a criminal complaint, Spc. Aaron Robinson shot and killed himself as Killeen police approached him in the early morning hours of July 1.

The complaint said Robinson killed Guillen April 22 in an armory room on post, then with the help of his girlfriend Cecily Aguilar, dismembered her body and buried the remains.

The complaint also alleges Robinson and Aguilar returned to the scene on April 26 with hairnets and gloves.

The two uncovered the remains and "continued the process of breaking down the remains of the dead female," the complaint said.

Aguilar was arrested and charged with conspiracy to tamper with evidence. Her trial was set for Jan. 19.

RELATED: Cecily Aguilar hearing, trial delayed again


Guillen's family said she told them she was sexually harassed but she did not report it to her superiors for fear of retaliation. Fort Hood investigators said they found no evidence supporting the claim.

Still, Guillen’s story launched a nationwide awareness campaign to expose sexual assault and harassment in the military with former and current servicemembers coming forward on social media to share their stories.

Guillen's family, along with their attorney Natalie Khawam, lobbied for the creation of the I Am Vanessa Guillen bill. It would allow soldiers to report sexual harassment and assault to a third party outside their chain of command.

The bill was introduced in the House by California Rep. Jackie Speier (D) on Sept. 16 with bi-partisan support, including Houston Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D) and Central Texas Rep. John Carter (R).

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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