A new report shows that Specialist Vanessa Guillen was a victim of a flawed system. Here’s what you need to know about how the Army failed her, what they’re doing about it, and what comes next:
- The report confirms that Specialist Guillen’s disappearance was not properly investigated — and neither were many others.
The report specifically states that in Guillen’s case, “despite immediate indications that her absence was suspicious” the base police did not list her as missing in law enforcement databases, put out a missing persons alert, attempt to locate her cell phone, or conduct any other basic protocols.
2. What the report isn’t saying — 92 soldiers went missing last year — and like Specialist Guillen, many may be dead.
The Army lists 92 young soldiers (its most vulnerable demographic) as “deserters” — but that’s just how it listed Private Gregory Morales, another Fort Hood soldier who was missing for 10 months before his body was found by accident during the search for Specialist Guillen.
3. Rates of violent sex crimes at Fort Hood were known to be higher in comparison with other Army bases, but leaders failed to act.
The report notes that “There is basic risk management concept that whenever a risk is predictable, it is preventable. At Fort Hood there was a clearly identified high risk of serious harm: sexual assault involving female Soldiers in the enlisted ranks, which could have been addressed decisively and in proactive ways to mitigate the risk. Unfortunately, a ‘business as usual’ approach was taken by Fort Hood leadership causing female Soldiers, particularly, in the combat Brigades, to slip into survival mode, vulnerable and preyed upon, but fearful to report and be ostracized and re-victimized.”
4. Commanders at Fort Hood allowed sexual harassment and assault to flourish in a “permissive” climate, and still got promoted.
Lieutenant General Paul E. Funk II (pictured above) was in charge of Fort Hood for two years during the time the report finds a complete lack of leadership regarding sex crimes — but the Army promoted him and put him in charge of all training and doctrine for the Army, meaning he’s now in charge of all training for SHARP — the same program he failed to implement at Fort Hood.
5. Fort Hood leaders acknowledged there were issues with sexual harassment and assault but accepted no responsibility.
Reading the report, it’s clear that most male leaders actually claimed there was no problem at all! Only a few senior officers would admit that there was a problem, stating “they did not feel Fort Hood was safe for female soldiers,” especially junior personnel like Specialist Guillen.
6. This isn’t the first study to reveal the problems — three other reports since 2014 have identified the same issues at Fort Hood.
Senior leaders in the Army and the Department of Defense knew for over six years that Fort Hood was among the most dangerous place to be a female soldier — but they did nothing meaningful to change it. Now, many leaders who were in charge at Fort Hood during those years have moved to even higher positions of authority — and no one is asking them the hard questions.
7. This report focuses on Fort Hood — but there are dozens of other military bases and Navy ships that are just as bad — or worse.
This table (based on the recent Rand report) shows that as bad as Fort Hood, it’s not the worst — the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps all have bases where women are in more danger — and no one’s talking about it. That list only shows the worst places; there are literally hundreds of ships and bases that are worse than Fort Hood with regards to sexual assault. The Air Force is doing somewhat better — the Department of Defense should figure out why, and implement changes to the other services accordingly.
8. Army leadership is melting down on Twitter over this issue — but the other branches of the military are completely silent.
9. The Army’s sexual assault and harassment prevention program is structurally flawed.
The Army’s formal program is called SHARP — short for “Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program.” But that program failed the soldiers at Fort Hood, as it is failing many more throughout the Army. Interestingly, there is no standard for the Department of Defense; the Navy and Marines use a totally different program to address the same problems, but with similarly poor results.
10. Sexual harassment and assault are out of control — and long-standing programs haven’t fixed the problem.
Here’s a key takeaway — Fort Hood has some of the highest level of sexual assaults in the Army, but not nearly the highest levels in the U.S. military. When adjusting for the total number of people on each base or ship, there were more than 50 other locations where the statistical chance of being assaulted was higher — but none have received the scrutiny of Fort Hood.
11. Soldiers fear retaliation and exposure if they report assaults and harassment — and so these crimes are underreported.
The Army’s Inspector General had given the base a passing grade on its procedures, but most Soldiers feared for their careers if they reported sex crimes in the ranks. And the report found that “there is considerable evidence that sexual assault and sexual harassment are significantly underreported at Fort Hood and that female Soldiers have been and remain at high risk.”
12. Military Police lack the training, equipment, procedures and motivation to investigate serious crime on the base.
The report notes that although “Guillen’s car was still parked in the parking lot across from her barracks and all financial activity on her credit card and bank accounts had ceased” the base police did not consider her to be anything but “Absent Without Leave” (AWOL) — a status which makes a missing soldier look bad, but doesn’t do anything to help find them.
13. The Army has punished 14 leaders it says are responsible — but others have gotten promotions to higher positions.
The Secretary of the Army (pictured above) has “directed the relief or suspension of several leaders at every echelon from squad through brigade, division, corps, and installation” — but it’s unclear what will really happen. The five most senior leaders will likely just retire — but as noted previously, their predecessors, who presided over the same problems, have so far seen their careers advance.
14. The report’s recommendations are focused on fixing the sexual assault and harassment program — but that may not be enough.
The report’s recommendations focus on local fixes for the SHARP program, the base police, and the approach to a missing Soldier. No mention is made of investigating other bases with similar problems, addressing the widespread problems of sex crimes and missing persons in the military as a whole, or addressing the cultural biases against women in the Army.
15. The report is the first of its kind, and a good start — now the military needs more as Congress renews calls to shift oversight to civilian control.
It’s obvious that the problem with military culture goes beyond Fort Hood, and beyond the Army. The Department of Defense should move quickly to investigate its other most problematic bases and ships, to review the extensive data it has on which leaders oversee toxic units, and to reform and standardize its approach to dealing with sexual harassment, assaults, and missing servicemembers.
The author is a retired Marine officer with significant experiences dealing with the military’s problematic approaches to preventing and responding to issues of sexual harassment, sexual assault, suicide, and other serious issues affecting military personnel.
Please contact him on Twitter (https://twitter.com/E_H_Carpenter) if you are interested in re-printing or distributing this article.