Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy has ordered the firing or suspension of 14 commanders and other leaders at Fort Hood, Texas, including two general officers. The actions come after a four month review by an independent committee found a “pervasive lack of confidence” in the command climate at Fort Hood and a high risk of harm to female soldiers.
After reviewing thousands of documents, interviewing hundreds of Fort Hood soldiers and surveying thousands more, the review committee concluded the installation’s command team had created a “permissive environment” for sexual assault, sexual harassment and other misconduct.
And the team found the problems extended far lower than the senior leadership ranks. The more than 150-page report described a widespread sense among soldiers that unit-level enlisted leaders couldn’t be counted on to intervene in sexual assault, and that those who report it would face retaliation.
“I am gravely disappointed that leaders failed to effectively create a climate that treated all soldiers with dignity and respect, and failed to reinforce everyone’s obligation to prevent and properly respond to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault,” McCarthy told reporters Tuesday. “Because of this, to restore trust and confidence and accountability, I directed the relief or suspension of commanders and other leaders from the corps to the squad level.”
The highest-ranking officer to be removed from his position was Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, the deputy commanding general of the Army’s III Corps. The Army also suspended Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Broadwater, the commander of the 1st Cavalry Division while the service conducts a new investigation into the command climate of that division. And the Army has opened a separate investigation into the 6th Military Police Group, which provides law enforcement services at Fort Hood.
The review committee found that not only is the climate at Fort Hood tolerant of sexual assault and harassment, crime in general is a problem.
The team found that outside the gates, in the city of Killeen, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about crime statistics. But inside the fenceline, there are high rates of violent crime by the standards of an Army installation, and there is a higher rate of positive drug tests at Fort Hood than anywhere else in the Army.
Chris Swecker, the head of the review team and a former assistant FBI director, said that’s because Fort Hood has taken a “fully reactive” posture toward crime.
“This is a military installation — it’s a gated community, and there are a lot of tools that you can use to suppress crime. What we found was that there was no proactive efforts to suppress crime, to address drug issues, to address violent crime, and suicides are extremely high,” he said. “What we found was that because [the local Criminal Investigation Command detachment] was so inexperienced and so taxed for resources, they really didn’t dive deep on suicides to find out why.”
Similarly, the police group is ill-equipped to handle murder cases, Swecker said.
“There aren’t an anomalous number of homicides at Fort Hood, but the homicides that did occur got intense media attention, so we looked closely at them,” he said. “And again, what we found was CID just needed more experience and more continuity inside the detachment. It may be systemic across CID that there just isn’t enough longevity at the post on the part of the investigators. So we made some recommendations regarding making sure there are experienced agents there, including going to more civilian investigators.”
The review also found the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Program (SHARP) was badly under-resourced, and that there is a widespread lack of confidence in the Army’s protocols for dealing with sexual assault cases at Fort Hood.
During its own interviews with soldiers, the team discovered 34 credible instances of sexual assault and 63 cases of sexual harassment that had never been reported before.
Carrie Ricci, a member of the review team who once served at Fort Hood as a JAG officer, said too many women simply don’t think their reports will be believed — a phenomenon that tends to arise once a service member has seen a colleague report a sexual offense and not have the allegations taken seriously.
“Once that happens with one soldier, every soldier in the unit learns of what’s happening. And for the other women in that unit, it became a sense that ‘they didn’t believe us,’ even if they served as a witness,” she said. “There is that reluctance to report because of a feeling of ‘Who is going to believe us?’ That’s especially true for a junior enlisted woman, or one who maybe isn’t the unit’s star soldier at the moment. [Our interviews] were a little bit cathartic for many of them, because someone was listening, and they felt that they were being heard. So it’s important to me to say, ‘We heard you, and we believe you.’”
The committee made 70 recommendations specific to Fort Hood; McCarthy said he has agreed to implement each one of them. And as a follow-on to the panel’s work, the Army appointed a “People First” task force to determine how systemic similar problems are across the broader Army.
McCarthy launched the independent review after the well-publicized death of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, who was murdered at Fort Hood, and who remained missing for two months afterward. The committee also made numerous recommendations on how the Army should react when a soldier doesn’t report for duty, other than simply declaring them absent without leave (AWOL).
“The Guillen case is an example of the fact that accountability for soldiers at the first muster had slipped, particularly during COVID,” Swecker said. “It’s the NCOs not necessarily knowing enough about their soldiers to know what was normal and what was not. The second part of it was with all the regulations and all the protocols in the Army, there were none for a failure to report … so each NCO had to rely on their own devices and their own judgment as to whether that failure to report was under suspicious circumstances, or circumstances where that where the soldier might be in jeopardy.”
Under a new directive McCarthy signed in response to the review, commanders are only allowed to declare a soldier AWOL if they have actual evidence that their absence is voluntary.
If not, they’ll be recorded with a newly-created status: “absent-unknown,” or AUN. That designation will trigger immediate efforts to find them, and their families will also be assigned a liaison officer to keep them updated on search efforts.
“We have looked at the new missing soldier protocol, and it’s a very good one, because it starts on hour one,” Swecker said. “In any missing person case, the first 24 hours is extremely critical — you can’t get started 24 hours into it. So we think this hits the mark.”