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Woman accused of helping dismember Vanessa Guillen loses bid to toss her confession

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The Army fired or suspended 14 officers and soldiers at the Fort Hood base in Texas after a damning investigation uncovered chronic leadership failures that contributed to a widespread pattern of violence including murder, sexual assaults and harassment.  

In July, a panel of five civilians was formed to investigate the base’s command culture and handling of sexual harassment cases and disappearances and those results were shared publicly in December.

‘The investigation after Vanessa Guillen’s murder found Fort Hood has a command climate that was permissive of sexual harassment and sexual assault,’ then Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said in a press conference in December.

He said the issues plaguing Fort Hood are ‘directly related to leadership failures.’ 

Army Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, who was left in charge of the base when Guillen was killed, was fired from his post. 

Army leaders had already delayed Efflandt’s planned transfer to Fort Bliss, where he was supposed to take over leadership of the 1st Armored Division, due to the investigations into the base. 

The base commander, Army Lt. Gen. Pat White, will not face any administrative action because he was deployed to Iraq as the commander there for much of the year.  

The leadership of Guillen’s unit, Col. Ralph Overland and Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Knapp of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment were also fired.

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Broadwater and Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas C. Kenny, 1st Cavalry Division commanding general and command sergeant major, were both suspended. 

Army Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, who was left in charge of the base when Guillen was killed, was fired following the review

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Broadwater, 1st Cavalry Division commanding general, was suspended following the review

Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas C. Kenny, 1st Cavalry Division command sergeant major was suspended

Suspended: Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Broadwater (left) and Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas C. Kenny (right), both of the 1st Cavalry Division, were suspended following the review

Col. Ralph Overland, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment commander, who was in charge of Guillen's unit, was fired following the independent review

Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Knapp, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment command sergeant major, who was in charge of Guillen's unit, was also fired

Fired: Col. Ralph Overland (left), the 3rd Cavalry Regiment commander and Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Knapp (right), both of whom were in charge of Guillen’s unit, were fired

Their suspension is pending the outcome of a new Army Regulation (AR) 15-6 investigation of 1st Cavalry Division’s command climate and Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program. 

The names of the battalion level and below commanders and leaders who received administrative action were not released. 

McCarthy said the panel published nine main findings and 70 recommendations that the Army is accepting to correct the command culture at the base.  

The panel said they made an effort to talk to women in every division at the base, especially those in Guillen’s unit. 

The panel conducted 647 individual interviews on the base. 

‘Of the 503 women we interviewed [in the investigation], we discovered 93 credible accounts of sexual assault. Of those only 59 were reported,’ said Queta Rodriguez, a member of the independent review panel.

‘And we also found 217 unreported accounts of sexual harassment. Of those only half were reported. What we discovered was over the course of those interviews, the lack of confidence in the system effected the reports of those incidents,’ she added.

The independent review found that the Army’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention Program (SHARP) failed to curb sexual assault and harassment on bases due to structural failures.

Panelists said there was a lack of training, resourcing and staffing at the SHARP office on Fort Hood.

It also found that the command climate failed to practice the program’s core values below the brigade level, which led to less trust in the program.  

McCarthy ordered for the review in mid-July to find the ‘root causes’ of sexual harassment and violence on the base and whether the command culture and climate reflects the Army’s values. 

Of the 31 deaths at the base in 2020, while some where deemed accidents, five were homicides and 10 were suicides.

‘Soldiers assaulting and harassing other Soldiers is contrary to Army values and requires a dramatic change in culture,’ Chris Swecker, the independent review panel chair, said. 

‘There was a founded fear that the confidentiality of the [sexual assault] reporting process would be compromised. It took so long to get an adjudication that people never saw an adjudication,’ he added.

He said the panel’s recommendations were designed to ‘address deeply dysfunctional norms and regain soldiers’ trust,’ he added.  

The panel offered new policies for the Army to implement including a restructure of the SHARP Program at Fort Hood, which they said was ineffective at the base.

The panel advised for the creation of full time Victim Advocates comprised of a hybrid of civilian and uniformed personnel and the creation of a SHARP Program Office track to monitor the life-cycle and aging of each sexual assault and harassment case and prepare a quarterly report with that information. 

They also suggested new measures to better track soldier disappearances. 

The panel advised for the creation of an Army-wide set of protocols for ‘failure to report’ scenarios in the critical first 24 hours of a soldier’s absence.

Under the new policy commanders will be required to list service members as absent-unknown for up to 48 hours and must do everything to locate them to determine whether their absence in voluntary before declaring them AWOL, or absent without leave.

It also includes new guidance on steps to classify soldiers as deserters.

McCarthy said the People First Task Force has been created to study the committee’s recommendations and map out a plan to enact them.  

Fort Hood Commanding General Lt. Gen. Pat White said: ‘There’s some candid feedback on the culture here. What was made abundantly clear is we have to fix our culture, particularly with sexual assault and harassment.’

He said changes are already underway at the base and he has set aside more than four million hours for junior leaders to work on team building and get to know their soldiers. 

He said that the base was given notice of the firings and had time to prepare a ‘compassion team’ that includes a lawyer, a public affairs representative, a chaplain, behavioral health representative and a cyber awareness expert.

The five members of the independent review committee are Chris Swecker, Jonathan Harmon, Carrie Ricci, Queta Rodriguez and Jack White, who together have a combined 75 years of experience as active-duty military and law-enforcement personnel.   

Chris Swecker is the former assistant director of FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division and Jonathan Harmon is a civilian trial attorney who represented Fortune 500 companies and a combat veteran who served in the Gulf War.

Carrie Ricci is 21-year Army veteran and assistant general counsel for the Department of Agriculture, Queta Rodriguez is 20-year Marines veteran and regional director for the non-profit FourBlock, and Jack White a partner at the law firm Fluet Huber Hoang in McLean, Virginia who is a West Point graduate and served five years on active duty.

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