Army ready to begin broad review at Fort Hood in wake of Guillen murder

Members of an independent panel to conduct review of command climate are named.

July 30, 2020, 11:08 AM

The Army has named the five members of the independent panel that will soon review the command climate and culture at Fort Hood, Texas, in the wake of Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s murder and her family's claims that she was too intimidated to report allegations of sexual harassment by a fellow soldier.

The five civilians named to the panel are: Chris Swecker, an attorney and former assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division; Jonathan Harmon, a prominent trial attorney; Carrie Ricci, an associate general counsel at the Department of Agriculture; Queta Rodriguez, a regional director of a nonprofit organization that helps veterans transition into civilian careers, and Jack White, an attorney who has expertise in government investigations.

"I commit to providing a complete and thorough review of the command climate at Fort Hood and to follow the facts wherever they lead," said Swecker, who will lead the panel.

"The Army is committed to taking care of our Soldiers, civilians, families, and Soldiers for life, and this independent review will explore the current command climate and culture at Fort Hood," said McCarthy in a statement announcing the panel.

McCarthy announced the review two weeks ago following a meeting with members of the League of United Latin American Citizens and two members of Congress to discuss the issues surrounding the investigation into Guillen's death.

The panel will conduct interviews with Fort Hood soldiers and families and review historical data from the base, including command climate surveys, inspector general reports, criminal and military justice reports, and sexual harassment and sexual assault response program statistics.

The panel's findings will be submitted to James McPherson, under secretary of the Army, and Gen. Joseph Martin, the vice chief of staff of the Army, who will co-chair an implementation team to consider the recommendations and implement any changes, as needed.

Guillen's family has said that 20-year-old Vanessa Guillen was sexually harassed at Fort Hood but that she was too afraid to step forward with her allegations because she feared retaliation.

Guillen was last seen on April 22, but investigators did not find her remains until June 30. Her alleged killer, Spc. Aaron Robinson, took his own life as investigators closed in on him. His girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, has been charged with helping him dismember and bury Guillen's body.

Candles and flowers adorn a mural of Vanessa Guillen, a soldier based at nearby Fort Hood on July 6, 2020 in Austin.
Sergio Flores/Getty Images, FILE

Since her disappearance, Guillen’s family has demanded justice for Guillen and other service members who have been victims of sexual harassment or violence.

They will meet with President Donald Trump at the White House on Thursdsay to discuss Guillen's murder and their campaign.

An Army official has told ABC News that the Army's Criminal Investigation Command's probe of Guillen's disappearance identified some information that Guillen was potentially harassed at Fort Hood but that it was not sexual in nature nor was it from Robinson.

The official said investigators did find that some sexual comments may have been made about Guillen, but they did not find any records that showed she had filed any complaints of sexual harassment. Also, no one in her chain of command recalled hearing her discuss any sort of harassment with them.

Shortly after Guillen's remains were found, the top commander at Fort Hood requested that inspectors from Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) carry out a review of the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program office at Fort Hood.

On Wednesday, Congress received details of that unreleased inspection that showed 94% of surveyed soldiers trusted their base leaders and had a high willingness to report sexual infractions to the SHARP base's office.

"Willingness to report, which although still not 100%, and we still have challenges there, the willingness to report both assault and harassment incidents was also high, 86% and 87%, respectively," Colonel Patrick Wempe, a FORSCOM command inspector general told a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.

Despite the positive findings, Wempe said the team also found room for improvement as "a few soldiers indicated a hesitancy to report SHARP incidents for several disparate reasons."

"Some soldiers expressed that junior leaders in particular lacked the practical experience to respond to a sexual harassment or assault incident," said Wempe.

He added that "extended hiring timelines for new SHARP program personnel can result in episodically unfilled positions. Finally, some soldiers indicated that the SHARP training they receive is repetitious and unimaginative."

The inspection included a written survey of more than 225 soldiers from various units at Fort Hood, as well as interviews with close to 200 other soldiers and leaders.

Related Topics