After a year of record violence at Fort Hood in 2020, army leaders have announced that they are firing or suspending 14 officers and enlisted soldiers at the base. An announcement made on Tuesday details that the army base is also ordering policy changes to address consistent leadership failures that fostered serious patterns of violence including murder, sexual assaults, and harassment that have now become synonymous with the Fort Hood.
According to the Associated Press, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy opted to remove officials from their jobs — including two general officers — after findings from an independent panel investigation revealed the base’s widespread problems. Based on the review of Fort Hood, McCarthy says he concluded that the epidemic of violence and fear about what will happen next is “directly related to leadership failures.”
The officials who have been let go include Major General Scott Efflandt, who was in charge of the base earlier this year when Vanessa Guillén was killed, in addition to Major General Jeffery Broadwater, the commander of the 1st Cavalry Divisions. The Commander at Fort Hood, Lt. General Pat White, will not face any administrative action. All of this is expected to trigger further investigations, which could lead to additional punishments for those found responsible.
These actions come in the aftermath of many incidents tied to Fort Hood this year — including 26 soldiers who died by suicide, homicide, or other brutality. Most notably, Guillén went missing for almost two months in the beginning of the year before her remains were found and it was declared that she had been murdered. According to reports, she was bludgeoned to death by fellow soldier Aaron Robinson, who then killed himself in July as police were trying to arrest him. Guillén’s family has shared that Robinson also sexually harassed her. The army has said they have no evidence of that.
In March, 20-year-old Shelby Tyler Jones also died near Fort Hood after suffering a gunshot wound in south Killeen, and Brandon Scott Rosecrans, was found dead with a gunshot wound near Fort Hood in May. His car was also found burned nearby. In addition to these horrifying deaths, other incidents at Fort Hood this year included the death of Sgt. Elder Fernandes, who was found hanging from a tree over the summer, as well as Francisco Gilberto Hernandezvargas, a 24-year-old soldier who drowned near the base.
These are only some of many that signaled an alarming pattern that's developed over the years — with several of the deaths that occurred on or near the base linked to foul play. According to McCarthy, Fort Hood has one of the highest rates of murder, sexual assault, and harassment in the Army. Prior to this year, there were 38 deaths at Fort Hood in 2019, including 17 deaths by suicide; in 2018, there were a total of 28 deaths, with 16 deaths by suicide.
Despite the claims that officials are being fired for failing to prevent violence at the base, former military personnel on Twitter have concerns about how the system works. “I’m former military. You don’t get fired. You get rank reduction, removed from your leadership role, & possibly moved to another unit,” said one user in response to the news. Others commented that firing or suspending officers and soldiers is not the same as charging them and righting the harm they’ve allowed to take place. However, with the investigation underway, it’s unclear what other actions will be taken based on findings — and it’s possible that the officers and soldiers may be fully released with dishonorable discharges, among other consequences.
McCarthy has also ordered a new Army policy that will amend how officials deal with missing soldiers. Commanders will be required to list service members as absent-unknown for up to 48 hours while they do everything in their power to locate them and determine if their absence is an emergency or voluntary. McCarthy told reporters at the Pentagon that he was disappointed in the commanders at Fort Hood and that “without leadership, systems don’t matter.”