Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy announced the study earlier this month, after meeting with Latino organizations to discuss not only Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s death at Fort Hood, but the overall environment for Latino and other minority soldiers.
“It’s an honor for me to support our men and women, our sons and daughters in uniform, to ensure they live and work in environments where they feel safe and respected. As a representative of the panel, I commit to providing a complete and thorough review of the command climate at Fort Hood and to follow the facts wherever they lead,” Chris Swecker, a former FBI inspector and current North Carolina-based attorney who has previously reviewed that state’s highway patrol and bureau of investigation, said in a release.
Swecker will be joined by Jonathan Harmon, a West Point graduate and current trial lawyer; Carrie Ricci, assistant general counsel for the Agriculture Department; Jack White, an attorney with a background in government investigations; and Queta Rodriguez, a Texas-based former Marine and veterans advocate who runs FourBlock, which helps service members transition back to civilian lives.
The independent panel is the next step in the Army’s reckoning with sexual harassment and toxic command climate at Fort Hood, following an internal review leaders briefed to Congress on Wednesday.
In the wake of what began as a search for Guillen, then ended in the suicide of a suspect in her disappearance, the arrest of his alleged accomplice and the discovery of her dismembered remains, her story has become emblematic of all of the ways service members have felt silenced by toxic command climates, sexual harassment and assault, and racism.
“The purpose of this independent review is to determine whether the command climate and culture at Fort Hood, and the surrounding military community, reflects the Army’s values, including safety, respect, inclusiveness, and a commitment to diversity, and workplaces and communities free from sexual harassment,” according to the Army release.
Research will include historical data from the post, as well as interviews with troops, Army civilians and members of the community outside the gates.
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Joe Martin and Army Under Secretary James McPherson will review the results and head up a team to consider and implement recommendations.
“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 July 10.
Fort Hood, its law enforcement entities and leadership, as well as the experiences of soldiers and civilians in the Killeen, Texas area, have all been implicated in the fallout of Guillen’s death.
“I wouldn’t say every soldier in the Army has disdain for [III Corps] and those units at that installation,” Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston told Army Times July 10. “But there is some animosity that’s going on and that’s why we do need to do the independent review.”
The panel members’ announcement came as supporters held a rally for Vanessa Guillen outside the White House on Thursday, while members of her family met privately with President Donald Trump.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.