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Fort Hood leaders add new Army training to help prevent sexual abuse on post, support victims

The main gate at Fort Hood, Texas. (U.S. Army photo/Released)

Three months after members of Fort Hood’s top brass were punished for failing to protect soldiers from systemic sexual misconduct, the post’s newest leaders have introduced efforts to teach soldiers standards of behavior to prevent further harassment and violence.

Last week, soldiers with the 36th Engineer Brigade at Fort Hood participated in a new sexual assault prevention training course called the Supporting Warriors Action Team, or SWAT. The course teaches soldiers how to recognize early warning signs of sexual misconduct, intervene when they notice something is wrong and support victims of abuse, Fort Hood leaders said Monday.

Army officials in early December released the findings of an independent investigation aimed at Fort Hood leadership, which found commanders at the Central Texas military installation created a permissive environment that lead to a culture of systemic violence and sexual abuse.

Hours after the investigation’s findings were released, the Fort Hood leaders who were not fired as a result later announced a program called Operation People First, which officials hoped would help promote a cultural change on post. SWAT is just one course under the Operation People First initiative, according to Fort Hood officials.

The family of slain Spc. Vanessa Guillen held protests last summer outside the gates of Fort Hood to cast a spotlight on the lack of transparency and accountability among the post’s leadership when it came to complaints of violence and sexual misconduct at the post. Guillen’s disappearance and death eventually led Army leaders to investigate allegations made by the family and others.

The family of the 20-year-old Guillen had for months demanded that leadership do more to find the soldier they first reported missing on April 22, 2020.

In a matter of months, her remains were found near the Leon River in Bell County. Vanessa Guillen’s mother, Gloria, said her daughter had confided that she was being sexually harassed by multiple soldiers on post.

One of those Gloria Guillen accused of sexually harassing her daughter was Spc. Aaron David Robinson, who authorities think killed Guillen on post before dismembering her and disposing of her remains. Robinson fatally shot himself in July when confronted by investigators, Killeen police have said.

Guillen’s case sparked a social media movement with the hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen, that involved hundreds of people, including some soldiers stationed at Fort Hood, who said they experienced sexual abuse while serving in the military.

The family’s continued push for congressional intervention prompted investigations into both the post’s command climate and its sexual harassment/assault response and prevention program, also known as SHARP.

One investigation found that many soldiers would not report sexual assault or harassments to SHARP because, “victims feared the inevitable consequences of reporting, ostracism, shunning and shaming, harsh treatment and indelible damage to their career.”

While Fort Hood leaders have admitted failures in protecting soldiers from sexual abuse, they have maintained no substantial evidence proved that Guillen was the victim of sexual misconduct before her death.

On Thursday at 4 p.m., the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee, made up of civilians with extensive military and law enforcement backgrounds, will meet again to release updated findings from their investigation last year.

In December, Army leaders focused on the Independent Review Committee’s findings regarding sexual abuse. However, this time the hearing will focus on the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Command.

The Guillen family in a meeting with former President Donald Trump in July said CID failed to properly investigate Vanessa’s disappearance, adding that at least one other soldier was listed as AWOL by CID when they actually had been killed.

That other soldier was Pvt. Gregory Wedel-Morales, whose remains were found in a field outside of Fort Hood while civilians searched for Guillen last spring. He was last seen in 2019, just two weeks before he was scheduled to finish serving in the Army.

The Wedel-Morales case is still under investigation. Foul play is suspected.

On Thursday, investigators will provide insight into how CID classifies missing soldiers and give recommendations on how CID leaders can do better.


(c) 2021 Austin American-Statesman

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