The rates of certain violent crimes, including murder, are generally higher at Fort Hood, Texas, than other installations across the force, the Army’s top civilian leader said Thursday.
The acknowledgment comes on the heels of the incredibly violent death of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, who federal prosecutors say was bludgeoned to death by a fellow soldier inside a Fort Hood armory and later dismembered to hide the remains.
Fort Hood has become the subject of an independent command climate review that will attempt to identify causes of the high crime rates, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told reporters Thursday during a visit to the central Texas installation. The independent review team will look at not only Fort Hood, but also the surrounding community.
During his two-day visit, McCarthy said he met with soldiers across the post, from “private first classes all the way to general officers.”
McCarthy said he told soldiers that the Army was sending the “independent group of investigators to understand the root causes associated with the rise of felonies, violent acts [and] to better understand why this is happening at this installation.”
There have been eight soldiers who died on or near Fort Hood this year. Five of those deaths have been publicly linked to foul play. There are roughly 45,000 soldiers assigned to the installation.
“The numbers are high here,” McCarthy added. “They are the highest, in most cases, for sexual assault and harassment and murders for our entire formation — the U.S. Army.”
A written survey distributed to 225 Fort Hood soldiers in late June found that 18 out of the 52 women who participated, about one-third, reported being sexually harassed, Col. Patrick Wempe, the Army Forces Command inspector general, told lawmakers last week.
However, the survey’s results also showed that soldiers had a “high trust” in their leadership and a “high willingness” to report sexual harassment and assault incidents if they arise, Wempe added.
Guillen’s family said their deceased soldier shared allegations of sexual harassment with them prior to her murder. Guillen never reported the allegations to her chain of command for fear of reprisal, the family has said.
Investigators have not revealed a motive for Guillen’s death. Her regiment commander, Col. Ralph Overland, launched an internal investigation into her allegations in June. It remains ongoing.
The upcoming command climate review that McCarthy discussed Thursday will be carried out by five civilians whom the Army called “highly qualified experts” in a press release announcing their backgrounds.
The team is made up of three men and two women. It includes Chris Swecker, former assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division; Jonathan Harmon, a civilian trial attorney who represented Fortune 500 companies; Carrie Ricci, an assistant general counsel for the Department of Agriculture; Queta Rodriguez, a regional director for the national nonprofit FourBlock; and Jack White, a partner at the law firm Fluet Huber Hoang in McLean, Virginia.
“We’re getting an outside look to help us to get to those root causes and understand them,” McCarthy said of the review team. “The point of emphasis being that we’re going to put every resource and all of the energy we can from this institution behind fixing these problems.”
The panel will review historical data and conduct interviews with military members, civilians and members of the local community, according to Army officials. The panel will be assisted by a brigadier general and a staff for administrative, logistical and media support, officials added.
“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,” Army Undersecretary James McPherson said in July when announcing the review.
In the case of Guillen, the young soldier was allegedly killed by fellow 3rd Cavalry Regiment trooper Spc. Aaron Robinson, 20, inside an armory. He killed her during a duty day and then allegedly enlisted the help of his girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, in disposing of the remains, according to court records.
The two allegedly 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 beat Guillen to death with a hammer, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound when Killeen police officers attempted to arrest him.
McCarthy said that the investigation into Guillen’s death will also look at how Robinson was able to slip away from Fort Hood in the hours before his own death. Robinson was supposed to be confined to his barracks, officials said at the time.
Last week, family members of Guillen rallied with supporters in Washington, D.C., and met with President Donald Trump. The family and their representatives spent the visit calling for justice in their soldier’s death and for changes in how the Defense Department handles sexual assault and harassment cases.
“It’s a terrible story,” Trump said to the family in the Oval Office. “So we’re going to look into it very powerfully. We already have started, as you know, and we’ll get to the bottom of it. Maybe things can come out that will help other people in a situation like Vanessa. We’ll be in touch with you constantly.”
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. Follow on Twitter @Kyle_Rempfer