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Fort Hood leadership, Guillen family react to release of independent review's findings

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Posted at 12:43 PM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-09 16:38:43-05

Fort Hood leadership

III Corps and Fort Hood Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Pat White held a press conference on the results of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee’s report Tuesday.

Lt. Gen. White said he would not answer questions on the 14 suspensions and reliefs announced by Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy.

"There's some candid feedback on the culture here," Lt. Gen. White said about the independent review. "What was made abundantly clear is we have to fix our culture, particularly with sexual assault and harassment."

Lt. Gen. White said he was given enough warning on the reliefs and suspensions to put together a "compassion team" including a lawyer, Chaplin, awareness expert for soldiers.

"Now we'll deal with the aftermath," White said.

White said the soldiers suspended or relieved did not know about the news until today. White was not the one to notify them.

He talked to soldiers on post after the press conference.

Lt. Gen. White has directed an initiative called "Operation People First." “Operation People First” prioritizes a back-to-basics, people-first approach to leadership and focuses on the fundamentals of engaged personal leadership to build trust with Soldiers, Families, Civilians and military communities.

This operation will focus on leaders knowing their soldiers and putting them first.

White said the first step was giving leaders time to get to know their soldiers. Hours have been pulled to give back to the leaders. The initiative is about building teams and battling sexual harassment, racism, and extremism within ranks.

"Culture and climate starts at the top," Lt. Gen. White said. "We are committed to creating a culture that people can be proud of. We will address the challenges head on."

White said he will move forward with what they know from the findings and make changes.

Besides changes to how they train soldier so they can get more information, White also said they are opening up lines of communication that didn't exist before.

He has conducted 2 sexual assault review boards since coming back from Iraq. Every commander attends the sexual assault review boards, Lt. Gen. White said.

"Its about protecting the victim. Speed of compassion. We have the resources to get after these issues," said White.

The committee noted that command at Fort Hood was ineffective at implementing the SHARP program.

503 of 647 soldiers interviewed were women. 93 had credible accounts of sexual assault, only 59 reported. There were 217 unreported accounts of sexual harassment discovered.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Tuesday that he was suspending or relieving 14 leaders and soldiers at Fort Hood after an internal investigation revealed "major flaws" in leadership at the base.

The firings and suspensions include Army Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, who was left in charge of the base earlier this year when Guillen was killed, as well as Maj. Gen. Jeffery Broadwater, commander of the 1st Cavalry Divisions.

Lt. Gen. Pat White, will not face any administrative action. He was deployed to Iraq as the commander there for much of the year, McCarthy said during the Pentagon briefing.

Guillen family

The Guillen family and their attorney, Natalie Khawam, held a press conference Tuesday afternoon reacting to the news.

"It's refreshing to hear the truth. The truth is sad. It's upsetting, but it's refreshing. We all needed to hear this," said Khawam.

"We are satisfied with what the investigation released today," said Mayra Guillen, Vanessa's sister. "There was an individual that we asked to be removed that was removed."

However, Vanessa's mother, Gloria Guillen, said she is not fully satisfied with the consequences.

"The truth will be revealed. Because the eyes of the nation are on the case of Vanessa Guillen. I told McCarthy that," she said.

Gloria hopes the criminal investigation will reveal more names.

The family was joined by Houston Chief of Police Art Acevedo, who encouraged victims to come forward.

"When a victim, a person is victimized and taken from us, there's no more powerful force than love, love of family, love of advocates," he said.

The family and Khawam said the only way to truly protect soldiers is to pass the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act.

"We are here today, and Vanessa has made a great impact. As long as we can, we are going to keep pushing, keep asking for the legislation to be passed," said Mayra.

"Without that legislation, we are just going to keep on having statistics," said Khawam.

"Wherever you are Vanessa, you are alive. You are here today. Your legacy is going to keep going, hopefully with the act we are trying to pass," said Lupe Guillen, Vanessa' sister. "I'm fighting for this for Vanessa as her sister, but I'm fighting for this as a woman and someone who wanted to sign up for the U.S. Army."

The family is also going to continue to fight to keep Cecily Aguilar, who was arrested in connection to Vanessa's murder, in jail.

"We are going to fight for you to stay in jail where you belong," said Lupe Guillen, Vanessa's sister.

Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller

“I have been closely following Vanessa Guillen’s case these past few months. While my heart is heavy with the tragedy of her death, my commitment to addressing the issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment is resolved. As a department we must do better, and we will do better. I support Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy’s decision to hold leaders at multiple levels accountable and will be closely reviewing the results of the Fort Hood Report and the People First Task Force.”

U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX)

“It’s simply unacceptable to have one of our military installations, where our young men and women go to serve in the military and be safe, subject to either harassment, or sexual assault, or even loss of life.”

“I’ve asked the Senate Armed Services Committee to conduct hearings and determine if is this an isolated incident or if this is more broad or systemic within our military installations. This is a very, very serious matter.”

“This is not going to be swept under the rug.”