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"Multiple failures": Army punishes 14 after probe into Vanessa Guillén's murder, other deaths

The U.S. Army fired or suspended more than a dozen officials after an investigation into climate and culture at Fort Hood found "multiple failures" in how the Army handles soldier disappearances, deaths and sexual harassment complaints, Army secretary Ryan McCarthy said Tuesday.

Driving the news: The independent review was launched after the murder of the murder of 20-year-old Spc. Vanessa Guillén, who told family and friends she had been sexually harassed before she disappeared from Fort Hood in April. Her remains were found in June.

  • Investigators later said that Guillén was bludgeoned to death with a hammer by another solider, who later took his own life.
  • Guillén's murder prompted outrage nationwide, and highlighted growing concerns about the climate and culture at the Texas base.

What they're saying: "The initial investigation into Vanessa's death, coupled with high numbers of crimes and deaths at Fort Hood, has revealed a series of missteps and multiple failures in our system and within our leadership," McCarthy said during a news conference Tuesday.

  • Guillén's murder "shocked our conscious and brought attention to deeper problems," he added.
  • “This report, without a doubt, will cause the Army to change our culture."
  • McCarthy said he "directed the relief and or suspension" of 14 "commanders and other leaders from the corps to the squad level."

What they found: The Fort Hood Independent Review Committeein its report, found "a deficient climate at Fort Hood, including ineffective implementation of the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program that resulted in a pervasive lack of confidence, fear of retaliation, and significant underreporting of cases, particularly within the enlisted ranks," according to the Army.

  • "Fort Hood leadership knew or should have known of the high risk of harm to female Soldiers, according to the report," the Army said in a news release.
  • "The FHIRC also found that Fort Hood’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID) detachment was under-experienced and over-assigned, factors which adversely impacted investigations of sex crimes and Soldier deaths," it added.
"The committee determined that, during the time period covered by our review, there was a permissive environment for sexual assault and sexual harassment at Fort Hood. "
Chris Swecker, FHIRC committee chair

The big picture: There have been at least 159 noncombat deaths of Fort Hood soldiers, including at least 71 suicides and seven homicides and 71 suicides since January 2016, per The New York Times.

McCarthy said he signed a directive "clarifying expectations and responsibilities of unit commanders and Army law enforcement authorities focused on the first 48 hours after a Soldier fails to report for duty."

  • "This directive’s creation of an additional duty status code – 'absent-unknown' (AUN) – will provide commanders with time to make the appropriate determination of an absent Soldier’s status," the Army said, adding "commanders must determine by a preponderance of evidence that a Soldier’s absence is voluntary to classify their duty status as AWOL."
  • McCarthy also said that he was creating a "People First Task Force" to "study the committee’s recommendations and map out a plan to tackle them.”

Go deeper: Army says Vanessa Guillén "died in the line of duty"

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