The case of murdered Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillén was one of the several topics Army senior leaders addressed during a live town hall meeting on Facebook.
Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and 16th Sergeant Major of the Army Michael A. Grinston answered a couple of questions on Spc. Guillén's alleged sexual harassment at the beginning of the near 45 minute-long live stream. They also discussed diversity and inclusion, racial tensions and other issues that have gained attention in recent months.
Spc. Guillén's family previously said she had been sexually harassed on Fort Hood but had not reported it for fear of retaliation. Her family said they found out about it a few weeks before she went missing in April.
Gen. McConville said he was at the memorial service held for Guillén on Fort Hood last week, which was attended by the soldier's family. When asked about the outcry for change following her murder, he said the Army "didn't take care of her" and they need to find out what happened.
"Quite frankly they are very, very angry," McConville said about the family. "They are heartbroken and they're in a lot of pain because they sent us their daughter and, quite frankly we didn't take care of her. We have to find out what happened. We have to make sure that something never happens like that to one of our soldiers."
He went on to add that the military needs leaders "at every level" that will "aggressively" address sexual harassment and assault, racism and suicide.
Meanwhile, Sgt. Maj. Grinston said military leaders need to take the time to listen to the concerns of leaders and soldiers alike, in hopes of fixing institutional issues.
"We have to listen and then if we need to take those appropriate actions, we need to take some action," Grinston said. When soldiers tell us that they're having these issues, take an action. Don't just stand by... do something about it."
When asked about what can be changed to address the issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military, Secretary McCarthy said the focus is on preventing such actions from happening in the first place.
"First and foremost our focus is on prevention. How to understand the importance of being a great teammate and preventing terrible things like sexual harassment and sexual assault from happening to a fellow soldier," McCarthy said.
But, he added, in instances where sexual harassment or assault happen, the reporting system should inspire trust in a soldier to come forward.
"In the event these sorts of things happen, it's how do you have the trust in the system for a soldier to come forward to their leadership and tell them that something like this is happening," he said. "And then of course, taking care of the individual soldier throughout the entire ordeal and then as they try to move on with their life after something like this happens."
In response to the same question, McConville said leaders and soldiers must be taught to intervene in when they hear about sexual assault or sexual harassment.
"It's one of our soldier's intentionally hurting another soldier. We would never tolerate that. We would not tolerate that on a range, in training. We would never tolerate that in combat, but for some reason we don't have people intervening when it comes to sexual harassment and sexual assault," McConville said. "What I need every leader to do is to teach our soldiers, to teach our leaders that they must intervene. That needs to become part of our culture."
The Guillén family and their attorney have been working toward introducing, and eventually passing, the #IAmVanessaGuillen bill that would provide protections for victims of sexual assault and harassment in the military. The bill is set to be unveiled next week in Washington D.C. and will be followed by a rally.
87 members of congress have also signed a letter asking for the Department of Defense to conduct an investigation into the disappearance and murder of Spc. Guillén.
Rep. Sylvia Garcia (TX-29), who has been working with the soldier's family to get answers, announced that a congressional hearing will be held July 29. A press release from her office indicated that the hearing will focus on Spc. Guillén's alleged sexual harassment and the broader climate of reporting and responding to harassment and assault on Fort Hood and the military in general.
During the town hall, the recent demonstrations regarding George Floyd’s death and other issues surrounding race were addressed. They were asked about a way ahead to address these issues.
McCarthy said demonstration is part of our system. He said it brought the focus and attention that is needed to address racial tension in our country.
“But really it comes down to empathy. You’re ability to look across to another soldier who may have grown up a different ethnicity, different part of the country, but listening and understanding what it’s been like growing up as an African American male, Latino,” McCarthy said.
McConville said diversity is the strength of the Army.
“We have to make sure as leaders that every single soldier in our Army is treated with dignity and respect and every single soldier is taken care of. That is what makes us who we are,” McConville said. “If we see that not happening than every soldier, every leader has the responsibility to intervene and get it right.”
Watch the full town hall:
More on Vanessa Guillén:
- Vanessa Guillén, Fort Hood to be focus of U.S. House committee hearing
- Eighty seven members of Congress want the DOD to investigate Guillen's case, but local reps aren't on the list.
- Congresswomen call for justice for Vanessa Guillen, end to sexual assault and harassment in U.S. military
- Vanessa Guillen's family members receive humanitarian visas to travel from Mexico for funeral
- Spc. Vanessa Guillen remembered in memorial on Fort Hood
- Vanessa Guillen's mother prays for change at mural honoring Spc. Guillen in Killeen
- Cecily Aguilar pleads not guilty, bond denied until trial for her suspected role in death of Vanessa Guillen