Senators urge Army leadership to testify before Congress about Fort Hood firings

"The U.S. Army failed Sergeant Elder Fernandes, Specialist Vanessa Guillen, and their families and they, like the families of all of the soldiers who have suffered at Fort Hood, deserve justice.”

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Image Credit: Bronte Wittpenn/American-Statesman

In response to a recent independent review that documented years of sexual abuse and violence at the Fort Hood Army post in Killeen, Texas, at least 14 U.S. Army leaders were either fired or suspended earlier this week. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Ed Markey recently urged Army leadership to testify before Congress concerning the systemic abuse taking place on military bases.

Due to the fact that nearly 30 soldiers assigned to Fort Hood have died this year, an independent committee was assigned to review the base’s handling of reported sexual assaults, homicides, and suicides. In August, the body of U.S. Army Sgt. Elder Fernandes, who had been assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, was discovered hanging from a tree. Earlier this year, Fernandes reported that a superior had inappropriately touched him.

On June 30, the dismembered remains of Spc. Vanessa Guillén were discovered after she was reportedly murdered by Spc. Aaron David Robinson, who fatally shot himself before law enforcement could apprehend him. According to Guillén’s family, she had planned to file a sexual harassment complaint prior to her murder.

Between 2014 and 2019, an average of 129 felonies were committed annually at Fort Hood, including murder, kidnapping, and sexual assault. The base reportedly has “the most cases for sexual assault and harassment and murders for our entire formation of the U.S. Army.”

After the report on Fort Hood was released on Tuesday, at least 14 Army leaders were fired or suspended, including Col. Ralph Overland, Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Knapp, and Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, who was in charge of the base earlier this year when Spc. Guillén went missing. Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Broadwater and Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Kenny have been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation into command climate and the responses to sexual harassment and assault.

“Our report, I think, was very clear that the problems at Fort Hood were not the result of one commander, they were not the result of one administration, but it was really the result of years of benign neglect in the area of sexual harassment and sexual assault,” said Jonathan Harmon, a West Point graduate and trial lawyer who served on the independent committee, during congressional testimony on Wednesday.

“The pervasive problems found by the independent investigation into Fort Hood demonstrate a gross disregard by Army leadership and the Command at Fort Hood for the safety and well-being of America’s soldiers,” Sens. Warren and Markey wrote in a joint statement. “It should not have taken the dozens of deaths of men and women of our armed forces at Fort Hood to trigger an investigation.

“While we appreciate the findings of the independent investigation, it’s been clear that the Army’s leadership must be held accountable for the harm caused by allowing a climate of harassment, fear, and retaliation to take hold for so long. The Army must make immediately clear what steps it will be taking to address the problems outlined in the report. Top Army leadership should testify before the Senate as soon as possible, and the incoming Biden administration must continue to ensure that the problems caused by the lack of leadership and lack of care for the soldiers serving at Fort Hood are fully resolved.

“When a young person puts on the Army uniform it becomes our responsibility to keep them safe. The U.S. Army failed Sergeant Elder Fernandes, Specialist Vanessa Guillen, and their families and they, like the families of all of the soldiers who have suffered at Fort Hood, deserve justice.”

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