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'There is seismic change at Fort Hood' | Lawmakers see progress made, work still needed following death of Vanessa Guillen

Operation People First launched in the fall of last year following the disappearance and death of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, 20.

FORT HOOD, Texas — Following conversations with Fort Hood leaders, lawmakers announced Thursday that a majority of the 70 changes recommended by the Fort Hood Internal Review Committee following an investigation into the disappearance and death of Spc. Vanessa Guillen have been implemented.

Rep. Jackie Speier led a news conference with other U.S. representatives on Fort Hood to talk about changes made to its leadership, culture and lifestyle.

"I guess my number one message this afternoon is that Vanessa Guillen did not die in vain," Speier said. "She will be forevermore associated with our commitment to take sexual harassment and sexual assault cases out of the chain of command."

"The truth of the matter is that the time has come for the military to recognize that spending billions of dollars on [sexual] harassment and [sexual] assault prevention and still having 20,000 service members a year who are victims, with some 5,000 reporting and maybe only 150 to 200 convicted, is not accountability," she added.

Speier said Fort Hood has "taken very seriously the criticism they received" since Guillen's death on April 22, 2020.

Among the changes included Operation People First, which launched in the fall of last year and was designed to help build trust and strengthen the bonds of around 90,000 soldiers across III Corps by getting to know soldiers, certifying leaders and holding leaders accountable.

Speier said they started by returning to a "leader book" strategy to help connect leaders to the soldiers and their family.

"There are still many areas that require attention here at Fort Hood," Speier said. "They are quality of life issues and I continue to say when a service member serves, so does their family."

RELATED: Fort Hood initiates soldier-designed program to prevent sex crimes

Speier explained how, since their arrival on Wednesday, the lawmakers visited barracks and housing on the base.

"There is a desperate need to deal with the asbestos, the lead, the mold," she explained.

She said they spoke to families "struggling" on the base with their housing situation and how soldiers who put in work orders "don't get addressed."

"We have an obligation to these soldiers and their families, to give them quality housing," she said. "We are going to take steps to make sure that happens."

Lendlease released a statement in response to Speier's comments about housing, "We are surprised and very disappointed to hear Representative Speier’s characterizations of Lendlease’s decades of work under the Military Housing Privatization Initiative.

Firstly, Lendlease worked with the Army to come up with a creative, private financing solution that allows us to substantially accelerate improvements across our Army housing portfolio.

 Of the $1.1billion investment, nearly half will go to Fort Hood. That means approximately $420 million will go toward the demolition of and subsequent new construction of nearly 600 new JNCO homes; roof replacements on more than 2,300 homes; and renovations at more than 1,300 homes. This work will take place over the next five years.

The Army decides how investments are spent across its installations. We are partners with the military and work cooperatively and collaboratively to manage the housing. While we handle the day-to-day management, our military partners have oversight of all our operations and have major decision rights under the respective agreements, including how and where this private financing, sourced from private investors, is spent.  

Furthermore, Lendlease has attempted to meet with Representative Speier on multiple occasions. Not only did we publicly invite Representative Speier to come visit us during our presentation at the House Armed Services subcommittees in March, we have been in touch with her office on eight separate occasions – both over the phone and via email – requesting time on her agenda during her visit to Fort Hood this week, and we were told she was unavailable. We remain willing to meet with her and have again reached out to her office to facilitate a discussion."

Speier also said they observed how there's "inadequate" childcare on the base with long waiting lists that "need to be addressed."

Additionally, Speier said there remains an issue with the Army's Criminal Investigation Division.

"I am not confident that we have the right mix of civilians... in the Army CID," she said.

They came out with an announcement Thursday on how the CID plans to remedy the issue, "but there's no details," she said.

Yet, around the same time of the news conference, the Army released more details about the changes to be made to CID and its SHARP program, which addresses sexual assault and sexual harassment.

The restructured CID will feature a higher ratio of civilian criminal investigators to military special agents in order to increase investigative experience and grow effective partnerships with local and regional law enforcement agencies, the Army said in a release.

It added that the restructure will happen in phases.

"We will continue to hold the Army accountable in terms of making sure they have a first-rate CID to provide the kind of oversight and safety to our service members," she said.

RELATED: Army announces CID restructure and SHARP policy improvements

Speier said there's concern over similar issues of installations across the country and her committee is going to continue overseeing and evaluating them one-by-one.

"Fort Hood could become the spotlight, the role model, on how to fix these problems," she said.

"Today, I can say with confidence that this is a much better place than it was eight months ago," she added.

Watch the news conference below:

ORIGINAL STORY:

On Wednesday, May 5, the representatives arrived at Fort Hood and were updated by III Corps senior leaders about the program, as well as any progress addressing the findings of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee

Among the changes includes soldiers and leaders participating in SHARP training, which emphasizes the response and prevention of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

RELATED: What is the Teal Hash Report? 6 News looks at SHARP Program quarterly report

Last week, a 15-6 investigation revealed Guillen was sexually harassed by a superior prior to her death and disappearance on April 22, 2020.

Guillen was killed April 22 in an armory room on post by fellow soldier Spc. Aaron Robinson, according to a criminal complaint. Her remains were not found until June 30 near the Leon River in Bell County.

Guillen's family long maintained she was sexually harassed and in working with their attorney Natalie Khawam and congressional leaders, the I Am Vanessa Guillen Bill was drafted. It would allow soldiers who are sexually harassed or assaulted to report the abuse to a third party outside their chain of command.

On Wednesday, Rep. Roger Williams said he did not support the bill right now.

"It's not the bill we need," Williams said. "We're going to take a further look at it."

A bipartisan group of senators led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), introduced an amendment to that National Defense Authorization Act April 29 that seeks to offer the same kind of protection as the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act.

That amendment is called the Military Justice Improvement Act. Gillibrand first introduced it as a bill in 2013.

The investigation also found that leaders and soldiers in III Corps were not properly trained or involved in the program.

Williams said he had not completed reading the 15-6 but he said Fort Hood was "very responsible and frankly can handle their issues."

"Fort Hood is better prepared to handle these issues and the other military surrounding bases right now than bringing outside sources in the public sector or whatever," said Williams

Williams also spoke about the group of congressional members planning to speak Thursday, most of whom are democrats.

"I hope their visit does not become another opportunity to fixate on this installation's setbacks while ignoring the prevalence of concerning trends of military bases around the world," said Williams "I hope that they do not once again use their time to make political attacks on this community and further distract from the important work we have ahead of us and are doing."