An independent review of Fort Hood’s command climate is complete and its findings are slated to be released Dec. 8, but Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said an initial look at the report reveals shortcomings that must be addressed.
The report was compiled by a team of personnel from outside the Department of the Army who were tasked with examining the command climate and culture at Fort Hood and its surrounding community in central Texas.
“My preliminary review of the report, recent cases and recent media coverage, have hardened my belief that the Army’s SHARP program hasn’t achieved its mandate to eliminate sexual assaults and sexual harassment by creating a climate that respects the dignity of every member of the Army family,” McCarthy said in a video statement Wednesday afternoon.
Army leadership intends to also release an action plan to address the review’s recommendations when it’s released next month.
The Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, or SHARP, has been under scrutiny in recent months following the death of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, a Fort Hood soldier who prosecutors say was murdered in an armory on post by a fellow 3rd Cavalry Regiment trooper.
Guillen’s family said she had been sexually harassed by a fellow soldier prior to her death, but she didn’t report the incident for fear of retribution. Following those allegations, Army Forces Command sent a small team in June to specifically look at the SHARP program on Fort Hood.
FORSCOM’s review found that the post’s SHARP program overall meets Army standards. But the team also found that 18 out of the 52 women surveyed on post, about one-third, reported being sexually harassed. That number concerned lawmakers and prompted questions about whether the standards of success for SHARP programs need to be changed.
The Government Accountability Office announced in late August that it would review the Army’s SHARP program, as well, following complaints from members of Congress who sought more answers.
Natalie Khawam, an attorney representing the Guillen family, said McCarthy’s comments “corroborated what I have been emphasizing.”
Khawam drafted a piece of legislation called the Vanessa Guillen Act, which would create an independent system to investigate both sexual harassment and sexual assault incidents. It would also provide independent charging decisions for courts-martial.
“Victims like Vanessa Guillen, who suffered from sexual harassment and assault while serving our country, were failed by the system,” Khawam told Army Times. “In September Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi has promised to schedule our bill for a vote. We have patiently been waiting for her to tell us the date.”
In his comments on video Wednesday, McCarthy said that it is “abundantly clear” that Army leaders must do more with regards to sexual harassment and assault investigations.
“I am deeply saddened and concerned by the recent news reports of how sexual assault and sexual harassment have plagued our force and brought harm to our soldiers,” McCarthy said in the video statement Wednesday. “Leaders, regardless of rank, are accountable for what happens in their units and must have the courage to speak up and intervene when they recognize actions that bring harm to our soldiers and to the integrity of our institution.”
McCarthy did not elaborate on which media reports he was referring to specifically, but Guillen’s case has sparked hundreds of survivors to come forward to share stories of sexual trauma in the military.
Some of those stories were chronicled this week by CBS Evening News, which interviewed nearly two dozen victims and several whistle-blowers who worked for the SHARP programs as part of a series aired Tuesday.
The problems at Fort Hood, however, go beyond issues related to sexual assault and harassment. The post has been plagued this year with a number of violent deaths that set it apart from other installations. Several of the deaths that involve foul play involve violence against soldiers stationed there by civilians in the local community.
“The numbers are high here,” McCarthy said during a visit to Fort Hood in early August. “They are the highest, in most cases, for sexual assault and harassment and murders for our entire formation — the U.S. Army.”
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 in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.