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‘We need to find out what happened’ at Fort Hood, Army chief says

Army senior leaders are pledging to search for answers following the slaying of Fort Hood soldier Spc. Vanessa Guillen two months ago, as the post undergoes an independent command climate review.

The service’s chief of staff, Gen. James McConville, attended Guillen’s memorial service at Fort Hood, Texas, on Friday.

There, he met Guillen’s family members, who have been lobbying for answers after their 20-year-old soldier went missing April 22. Federal law enforcement now says Guillen was killed by a fellow soldier in an armory on the central Texas installation.

“They sent us their daughter and, quite frankly, we didn’t take care of her,” McConville said during a live-streamed town hall event Wednesday.

“We have to find out what happened. We have to make sure that something like that never happens to our soldiers,” he added. “We have to have leaders at every single level aggressively go after sexual harassment and sexual assault.”

Guillen she was sexually harassed by another soldier in her unit, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, prior to her killing, her family members have said repeatedly. She revealed the allegations to them but did not report it to her chain of command for fear of reprisal, according to the family.

Guillen’s regiment commander, Col. Ralph Overland, launched an internal investigation into those allegations in June. The Army has separately opened an inquiry into the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, or SHARP, program at Fort Hood.

Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston spoke with soldiers on Fort Hood in recent days, who were “dealing with the anguish” of Guillen’s killing.

“It was important for me to listen and hear their feelings, and they had some actionable things for me,” Grinston said.

Soldiers recommended that more cameras be placed on post, particularly in parking lots, according to Grinston. Guillen’s family attorney, Natalie Khawam, has also honed in on the lack of video recordings on the massive military installation.

“A military base is supposed to be one of the most secure places you can be,” Khawam has said previously when discussing her shock over the lack of cameras surrounding the armory where Guillen was allegedly killed.

Khawam has also been pushing legislation called the #IAmVanessaGuillen bill, which she and the Guillen family will discuss with President Donald Trump in Washington on July 29.

The legislation is intended to establish for service members an “independent, neutral, third-party agency to disclose and report any kind of sexual harassment and sexual assault,” Khawam said this month.

Problems at Fort Hood could extend beyond that single issue, however. As Task and Purpose noted Tuesday, there have been seven soldiers who died on or near the post this year. Five of the deaths have been publicly linked to foul play. There are roughly 45,000 soldiers assigned to Fort Hood.

Violent crime rates in Killeen, the city outside Fort Hood, are “consistently higher” than statewide rates, according to data published by the city published two years ago. By 2016, Killeen’s violent crime rate was 43 percent above the rate in similar-sized U.S. cities.

On July 10, the Army announced that Fort Hood will also be the subject of an independent command climate review headed by Army Undersecretary James McPherson.

“There were concerns raised not just with sexual harassment, but other aspects as well, with regard to the greater community of Fort Hood and the surrounding community — raised by not only the Guillen family, but by the Hispanic community and Congress as well,” McPherson told reporters at the Pentagon.

In the case of Guillen, the young soldier was allegedly killed by Spc. Aaron Robinson, 20, inside an armory. He killed her during a duty day and then enlisted the help of his girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, in disposing of the remains, according to court records.

The two worked together to burn the body, dismember it, mix the parts with concrete and bury the remains in three holes near the Leon River, about 20 miles from post.

Aguilar, who is a 22-year-old Killeen resident, was denied bail and pleaded not guilty to all three felony counts against her related to disposing of the remains.

Robinson, who allegedly bludgeoned Guillen to death with a hammer, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound when Killeen police officers attempted to arrest him. The motive for the killing has not been released by authorities.

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