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Amid turmoil at Fort Hood, post commander replaced and denied new role at Fort Bliss

Major General Scott Efflandt, III Corps and Fort Hood Deputy Commander, at a news conference at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, in early July 2020. (Bronte Wittpenn/Austin American-Statesman/TNS)

Amid public outcry over a series of homicides and allegations of sexual misconduct at Fort Hood, the U.S. Army on Tuesday announced the removal of the post’s top commander, Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt.

Army officials said Efflandt was supposed to take command of a division at Fort Bliss near El Paso in the near future, but will no longer move into that role.

Efflandt is now instructed to stay at Fort Hood near Killeen to serve as the deputy commanding general for support.

The Army said in a written statement that he will “assist with the reintegration of III Corps as they return from their mission supporting Operation Inherent Resolve,” the military’s name for the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Gen. Michael X. Garrett, commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, said that Maj. Gen. John B. Richardson IV will formally assume duties as deputy commanding general for operations of III Corps and acting senior commander of Fort Hood on Wednesday.

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“This previously scheduled change in leadership will enable continuity of command as III Corps returns from its role leading the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve,” the statement said regarding Garrett’s position.

Efflandt was repeatedly scrutinized for lack of transparency involving the investigation into the disappearance and death of 20-year-old Spc. Vanessa Guillen at Fort Hood.

Guillen was last seen while working at Fort Hood on April 22. Her dismembered remains were found more than three months later near the Leon River in Bell County.

The soldier’s family has called for a congressional investigation into Fort Hood’s handling of the case, saying Efflandt and others failed to properly search for the missing soldier, investigate claims Guillen was sexually harassed by fellow soldiers, or properly question who Guillen’s family believed was responsible for her death.

Authorities think Spc. Aaron David Robinson, whom the family accused of sexually harassing Guillen, killed her while they worked in an army weapons room on post.

Robinson died July 1 after shooting himself when investigators confronted him, Killeen police have said.

While U.S. Army officials say no substantive evidence proves Guillen was sexually harassed, the family’s allegations led to the viral hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen, which inspired former and active service members to share stories of sexual misconduct in the military.

Some, like 23-year-old Sgt. Elder Fernandes of Fort Hood, was even moved to formally report claims of sexual abuse to his command, according Natalie Khawam, the attorney for both Guillen’s and Fernandes’ families.

Fernandes’ body was found last week hanging from a tree in Temple, which sparked further controversy involving Fort Hood’s handling of mental health and sexual misconduct cases.

Additionally, a handful of other soldiers were found dead off-post in recent months. Authorities say foul play is suspected in four of those cases.

With Efflandt remaining at Fort Hood, the Army will announce a new commander for the 1st Armored Division, which Efflandt had previously been designated to lead. That announcement is expected in the coming days.

The Army also announced that Garrett will appoint Gen. John Murray, commanding general of Army Futures Command and one of the branch’s most senior commanders, to lead an in-depth investigation into chain-of-command actions related to Guillen.

Murray will roll those efforts into a more complete and comprehensive investigation that will delve into all activities and levels of leadership, a written statement Tuesday from the Army said.

Murray’s investigation, which will be conducted under the provisions of Army Regulation 15-6, is separate from an independent civilian review of Fort Hood now underway.

Over the weekend, a team of five civilians, who have a combined 75 years of experience in active-duty military or law enforcement, will spend the next two weeks on a “fact-finding mission” to determine possible root causes behind recent violence and sexual misconduct at Fort Hood.

The group will review a wide range of Fort Hood personnel, historical data and statistics, according to Army officials. The group will evaluate policies, regulations and procedures regarding sexual assault prevention, sexual harassment and equal opportunity.

The team also will scrutinize Fort Hood leaders’ training, education, abilities and effectiveness, as well as their response when soldiers disappear from post.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, the military branch’s top civilian leader, requested the investigation in July. He later revealed during a congressional briefing in early August that Fort Hood has the highest rate of violent crime in the Army.

The five members looking into sexual misconduct statistics at Fort Hood for the next two weeks and the command climate among various units are:

_ Chris Swecker, a lawyer and 24-year veteran of the FBI who has conducted similar independent reviews for the North Carolina state police and Winston-Salem police.

_ Jonathan Harmon, a West Point graduate who went to the University of Texas Law School.

_ Carrie Ricci, a lawyer for the U.S. Agriculture Department who served nearly 22 years as an Army officer, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.

_ Queta Rodriguez, a regional director of FourBlock, a nonprofit serving veterans, who lives in Bexar County. She served in the Marine Corps from 1991 to 2012 as an intelligence analyst and manpower operations officer.

_ Jack White, another West Point graduate who served as a law clerk for Samuel Alito while Alito was an appellate judge and a Supreme Court justice.

McCarthy requested the group provide an interim program report of their Fort Hood findings by mid-September and a final report by Oct. 30.

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(c) 2020 Austin American-Statesman
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