WASHINGTON (KXAN/AP) — Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy announced Tuesday that 14 leaders at Fort Hood were either relieved or suspended as a result of an independent investigation into violence at the post, including murders, sexual assaults and suicides.
Two general officers are among those being removed from their jobs, as top Army leaders on Tuesday announced the findings of an independent panel’s investigation into problems at the Texas base.
The actions taken by McCarthy come in the aftermath of a year that saw 25 soldiers assigned to Fort Hood die due to suicide, homicide or accidents, including the bludgeoning death of Spc. Vanessa Guillén. Guillén was missing for about two months before her remains were found.
The firings and suspensions include Army Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, who was left in charge of the base earlier this year when Guillén was killed, as well as Maj. Gen. Jeffery Broadwater, commander of the 1st Cavalry Divisions. The administrative actions are expected to trigger investigations that could lead to a wide range of punishments. Those punishments could go from a simple letter of reprimand to a military discharge.
The base commander, Army Lt. Gen. Pat White, will not face any administrative action. He was deployed to Iraq as the commander there for much of the year.
Army leaders had already delayed Efflandt’s planned transfer to Fort Bliss, where he was slated to take over leadership of the 1st Armored Division. Command of a division is a key step in an Army officer’s career.
Efflandt’s move was paused while the team of independent investigators conducted its probe into whether leadership failures contributed to the killings of several people, including Guillen, and who should be held accountable.
According to investigators, Guillén, 20, was bludgeoned to death at Fort Hood by Spc. Aaron Robinson, who killed himself on July 1 as police were trying to take him into custody. Guillén’s family has said Robinson sexually harassed her, though the Army has said there is no evidence supporting that claim.
The body of Pvt. Mejhor Morta was found in July near a reservoir by the base. In June, officials discovered the remains of another missing soldier, Gregory Morales, about 10 miles from that lake. All together, so far this year, 25 soldiers assigned to Fort Hood have died due to suicide, homicide or accidents, compared with 32 last year and 24 in 2018.
In an Associated Press interview last month, White said that he and other commanders bear responsibility for the problems. But he said it will take time to correct what some believe are systemic failures, and that some units will respond more quickly than others.
“I think all leadership is accountable for it, if you’re in this chain of command,” White said. “We have got to do everything we can to get this back on track.”
Guillén’s family responds
The Guillén family along with their attorney held a press conference in Houston Tuesday afternoon following the Army’s announcement.
Attorney Natalie Khawam thanked the Houston community and Police Chief Art Acevedo, who was also in attendance and gave a few words.
“I see how this family has been supported by this community, by leaders, by law enforcement, by everyone,” Khawam said.
Khawam disclosed that she and the family finally got to speak with Army Sec. McCarthy over Zoom before the press conference. She emphasized the impact Vanessa has made for generations to come.
Now, the family said they’re turning their attention to garnering support for the Vanessa Guillén Act. The bill would make sexual harassment a crime within the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
“Vanessa has made a great impact… we’re going to keep pushing and asking for the legislation to be passed,” said Mayra Guillén, Vanessa’s older sister.
Vanessa’s little sister, Lupe, said supporting the bill isn’t political; it’s about humanity. She recalled how many women in the military are scared to report their sexual harassment, due to fear of retaliation.
“We cannot protect our women without respecting our women,” she said.
Lupe stated the family will not be completely satisfied until the Act is passed.
The family is also asking McCarthy to openly back the Vanessa Guillén Act. Khawam said a copy of the bill was given to McCarthy so he can look it over. The family hopes to have an in-person meeting with him in the future.