The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman and ranking member said they were “encouraged by the accountability and commitment to change” they saw from Fort Hood’s new senior commander following a visit to the central Texas installation this week.
Maj. Gen. John B. Richardson IV was made the post’s acting commander in September. That announcement was accompanied by another indicating the Army had begun an investigation into the actions taken by the post’s chain of command following the disappearance of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, who prosecutors say was murdered in an armory by a fellow soldier.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., met with Richardson Monday. They held a listening session with female soldiers, walked through barracks spaces, spoke with military police and observed a Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention briefing, according to Inhofe’s office.
“While serious changes need to be made, we were both encouraged by the accountability and commitment to change we saw from Gen. Richardson who took command just five weeks ago," the two senators said in a joint statement. "He promised us we’d see a new command climate at Fort Hood in 90 days. We look forward to visiting again then.”
Richardson replaced Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt as the senior commander, whose tenure in charge of the post is under scrutiny in the chain of command investigation.
Fort Hood recently announced an initiative, dubbed “Operation Phantom Action,” a year-long effort to stem sexual assault and harassment, extremism, racism and suicides.
“Failures identified by post leadership are that leaders do not properly know their soldiers, do not always take appropriate action when needed, and do not hold others accountable," according to an Army release on the effort. "Phantom Action looks to take bold and decisive action with an approach that places people first.”
Even though Guillen’s case thrust Fort Hood into the public spotlight, there have been other violent deaths, accusations of sexual abuse and disappearances among soldiers stationed there that have also increased scrutiny.
“The numbers are high here,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said during an August visit to Fort Hood. “They are the highest, in most cases, for sexual assault and harassment and murders for our entire formation — the U.S. Army.”
Fort Hood is undergoing an independent command climate review that will attempt to identify causes of the high crime rates, according to McCarthy. The independent review team will look at not only Fort Hood, but also the surrounding community, and is expected to be finalized by late October.
Lawmakers have also been spurred to action over Guillen’s death. The Government Accountability Office announced in late August that it accepted a request by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., to review the entire Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program.
Also underway is a congressional investigation by two House panels into how Fort Hood has handled several missing persons cases and five deaths this year involving foul play.
“The tragic murder of Vanessa Guillen has made sure the Army and Senate Armed Services Committee are focused on Fort Hood,” Inhofe and Reed said in their statement. “We’re going to make sure the issues are fixed and won’t let up until we get to the bottom of it. We saw firsthand the outpouring of love and respect Spc. Guillen’s colleagues and community had for her and we owe it to her, her family, and every soldier to ensure justice is served.”
Kyle Rempfer was 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 in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.