By LUIS MARTINEZ, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — The Army has announced that 14 senior leaders and enlisted personnel at Fort Hood have been fired or suspended following an independent panel’s review of the command climate and culture at the base launched in the wake of the disappearance and killing of Spc. Vanessa Guillen.
The panel found that the Army’s sexual harassment prevention office at the post and Army-wide was “structurally flawed” and needed to be addressed. The Texas installation leads the Army in the number of violent crimes and cases of sexual assault and sexual harassment cases.
“I have determined that the issues at Fort Hood are directly related to leadership failures, leaders drive culture and are responsible for everything a unit does or does not happen to do,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said at a Pentagon news conference Tuesday.
“I am gravely disappointed that leaders failed to effectively create a climate that treated all soldiers with dignity and respect,” he said, “and have failed to reinforce everyone’s obligation to prevent and properly respond to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
“Because of this — to restore trust and accountability — I have directed the relief and or suspension of commanders and other leaders from the Corps to the squad level.
Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, who was the top military commander at the post when Guillen was killed, was being relieved of duty, McCarthy said.
The entire command team for Guillen’s unit, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, was also relieved of duty. The command leadership of general officers who run the 1st Cavalry Division have also been suspended pending further results of a new investigation into the division’s command climate.
Lt. Gen. Pat White, the senior commander of III Corps, was not punished because he was deployed to Iraq as the senior American military commander when Guillen disappeared.
McCarthy had ordered the independent review of the base’s culture after Guillen’s family claimed that the 20-year-old soldier had been sexually harassed but was too afraid to step forward with her allegations because she feared retaliation.
The independent panel found that the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Program at Fort Hood was “structurally flawed” and said it “was ineffective, to the extent that there was a permissive environment for sexual assault and sexual harassment.”
“No Commanding General or subordinate echelon commander chose to intervene proactively and mitigate known risks of high crime, sexual assault and sexual harassment,” the panel wrote in the report’s executive summary. “The result was a pervasive lack of confidence in the SHARP Program and an unacceptable lack of knowledge of core SHARP components regarding reporting and certain victim services.
The report found that a lack of training, resourcing and staffing at the SHARP office led to “significant underreporting of sexual harassment and sexual assault” at the installation.
A separate investigation of Fort Hood’s leaders and the handling of the Guillen sexual harassment claim, headed by Gen. John Murray, is still underway and will be released at a later date.
“I’m angry, I’m frustrated, I’m disappointed, we’re heartbroken,” McCarthy said in August following a visit to Fort Hood. He also promised changes there in the wake of Guillen’s death.
“Vanessa was our teammate; we let her down, we let her family down, and it hurts,” said McCarthy.
“We’re going to do everything we can to prevent these types of things from happening again, to learn from this, and to move on,” said McCarthy. “We will do everything we can to protect her legacy by making enduring changes.”
Guillen’s family was notified of the actions being taken today, said Gen. John McConville, the chief of staff of the Army, who then told reporters about his conversation with Guillen’s mother.
“I told her that we’re going to fix these issues that allowed them to happen,” he said. “I told her we must and will provide a safe and secure environment for America’s sons and daughters that serve in the Army.”
“We are holding soldiers accountable,” McConville added.
McCarthy said in a video message to the Army in November that his preliminary review of the independent panel’s report had led him to a troubling conclusion — that the Army’s program to assist victims of sexual harassment had failed in its mandate to create “a climate that respects the dignity of every member of the Army family.”
“We must do better,” said McCarthy. “Leaders, regardless of rank, are accountable for what happens in their units and must have the courage to speak up and intervene when they recognize actions that bring harm to our soldiers and to the integrity of our institution.”
“If we do not have the trust of America — nothing else matters,” said McCarthy.
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