After a two-day visit to Fort Hood, Texas, Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy said the murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen will lead to changes to prevent cases like hers from happening again. McCarthy said the Army's broad review of the culture at Fort Hood will help identify and fix the "root causes" that have led to the high number of violent acts at the base.
"I'm angry, I'm frustrated, I'm disappointed, we're heartbroken," McCarthy said candidly in describing his thoughts about Guillen's murder at a press conference wrapping up his visit to the sprawling base.
"Vanessa was our teammate; we let her down, we let her family down, and it hurts," said McCarthy.
"We're going to do everything we can to prevent these types of things from happening again, to learn from this, and to move on," said McCarthy. "We will do everything we can to protect her legacy by making enduring changes."
During a visit to Fort Hood, McCarthy held what he called "incredibly candid" meetings with soldiers of all ranks to discuss issues of concern at the base.
McCarthy has ordered a broad independent review of the command culture and climate at Fort Hood that was prompted by concerns from Guillen's family that the 20-year-old soldier was too intimidated to step forward with claims of sexual harassment.
The recently named panel carrying out that review will visit Fort Hood in late August. McCarthy said the review will look at "the root causes associated with the rise of felonies and violent acts, to better understand why this is happening at this installation" so that they can be fixed.
"The numbers are high here; they are the highest and some [of the] most cases for sexual assault and harassment and murders, for our entire formation in the U.S. Army," he said.
"We're going to put every resource, and all of the energy we can in this entire institution, behind fixing these problems," he said.
On Wednesday, Fort Hood announced the death of Pfc. Francisco Gilberto Hernandezvargas in a boating accident, marking the eighth non-training death at the base since March 1.
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. She pleaded not guilty last month.
McCarthy said Guillen's death had left him "markedly disappointed and saddened," because it was "a shot at the system and it rattles the system of the trust that you have to have in this profession."
"The only thing we can do is come together and have very hard conversations and invest in each other and learn about each other so that we know who our teammates are," he said.
He said a focus will be on improving the quality of the people coming into the Army, noting that the Army reflects the nation and that sometimes some bad apples make into uniform.
The uncomfortable conversations we have within our ranks must continue. In order to strengthen this great organization, we must understand the issues at hand. — SecArmy (@SecArmy) August 6, 2020
"At times, some people infiltrate our ranks; we got to find them, we got to root them out," said McCarthy.
Various investigations continue into the case, including an Army investigation that looked at the family's claims that Guillen was sexually harassed.
McCarthy described Guillen's murder as "an inflection point" for service members and victims who have stepped forward with their own stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault with the "IAmVanessa" hashtag.
Noting how Guillen's death had resonated throughout the Army, McCarthy said that during a recent trip to Poland and Italy soldiers there asked him about the case.