The Army's People First Task Force on Friday unveiled sweeping actions underway to transform the service's sexual harassment and assault prevention program. The moves address the findings of a damning review of Fort Hood, Texas, in the wake of Spc. Vanessa Guillen's disappearance and murder at the post last year.
Army leaders released the results of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee in December, which resulted in 14 leaders at the post being relieved or suspended for fostering a command climate that that was permissive of sexual harassment and assault.
The review included nine findings and 70 recommendations -- more than half of them addressing major flaws in the Army's Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Prevention, or SHARP, program at Hood.
"Not just looking at the SHARP program, but we are also looking at the climate and culture inside of our formations and what is happening ... inside of our squads because that is where the trust is actually brought to bear that those leaders and those soldiers inside of those ... formations can trust each other and tackle these tough conversations and be able to go to each other and know that action will be taken," Army G-2 Sgt. Maj. Julie A.M. Guerra, one of the chairs of the task force, told reporters at a roundtable Friday.
Fort Hood was widely criticized over how it handled the investigation of Guillen's case.
The 20-year-old 3rd Cavalry Regiment soldier disappeared April 22, 2020. She was allegedly murdered by fellow soldier Army Spc. Aaron Robinson, after which he reportedly smuggled her body off post and hid the remains in a remote site in Bell County. Robinson shot and killed himself when confronted by area police.
Guillen's family claimed that Robinson sexually harassed Guillen before he murdered her, but Fort Hood CID officials have said there is no credible evidence that Guillen was the victim of sexual harassment.
One major change to the SHARP program, slated to go servicewide, is a policy requiring commanders to select investigating officers from outside a subject's brigade-sized element for formal sexual harassment complaints.
"If a soldier needs to report something or if there is an investigation that needs to happen ... now the investigating officer will be from outside the chain of command, so that they are completely separated from what the problem set may be, and it's not something that is embedded inside of the formation," Guerra said.
Other changes at Fort Hood include:
- The Department of Emergency Services now provides a brief at each III Corps and Fort Hood company commander and first sergeant course on the purpose of military protective orders and how they benefit soldiers, commanders and units.
- III Corps now disseminates a monthly message to the force that includes the results of court-martial convictions for sexual offenses.
- III Corps commanders now strictly enforce an Army policy to update victims on Sexual Assault Review Board, or SARB, results within 72 hours.
- Fort Hood's Criminal Investigation Command detachment now has access to state-of-the-art software and digital-forensic-examination tools.
- The Fort Hood installation commander now leads and directs the monthly SARB process.
The task force's efforts to redesign the SHARP program are underway, and members expect to present their recommendations to Army leadership soon for review and implementation.
In March, a related Army event called the People First Solarium brought 100 junior enlisted and officers from across the total force to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to examine Army culture and the behaviors that negatively impact cohesion and trust.
The task force is conducting pilot programs to measure unit cohesion and trust, as well as the effectiveness of programs meant to counter harmful behaviors such as sexual harassment, at select installations. The assessments include soldier interviews and small-unit visits; surveys measuring morale and trust in leadership; and analyses of formations' operations with regard to trust and cohesion, leader-development programs, training awards, legal actions and soldier separation programs.
The task force initially was formed to ensure that the recommendations of the Fort Hood review were being implemented at the post, but the Army's leadership directed the changes to be expanded servicewide.
"We need to look at an enterprise approach for implementation," said Diane Randon, the Army's assistant deputy chief of staff of G-2 and another task force chairperson.
Fort Hood has begun implementing 20 of the recommendations, but expanding them Army-wide becomes a "little bit more complex and sometimes complicated to look at what we do for all three components and civilians and what does it take with regards to policy change," Randon said.
"We are intending it to not be slow ... but we have to be careful to make sure it is done the right way," she said. "We are in it for the long game because a culture change is not going to occur rapidly. This is not about implementing the recommendations and walking away; this is building a culture that will forever be different in our Army."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.