Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s Harasser Was a Known Toxic Leader, Army Report Shows
AUSTIN, Texas — The sexual harassment that Spc. Vanessa Guillen faced before her death last year from a noncommissioned officer at Fort Hood wasn’t an isolated incident.
There had been four other complaints filed against her platoon sergeant for his mistreatment of subordinates, yet leaders continued to move him and keep him in charge of soldiers, according to an Army report released last week.
The sergeant, whose name was redacted in the public release of the report, was known to yell, belittle and threaten soldiers with counseling, delayed promotion or denial of leave, while playing favorites and speaking Spanish in the workplace, which isolated those who didn’t understand the language, according to the report.
Though the redacted report does not include his position in Guillen’s unit, he was identified as her platoon sergeant by Gen. Michael Garrett, the commander of Army Forces Command who initiated the internal administrative investigation, known as a 15-6.
The platoon sergeant and 20 other leaders have faced disciplinary action in the wake of the investigation and another report by the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee that was released in December. It is unclear where and in what position the sergeant serves now, but he has been notified of an intent to relieve him from leadership, according to a military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. That administrative action will trigger an evaluation and includes a period of review when the soldier being disciplined can respond.
Punishment for some of the other leaders at Fort Hood came because they continued to place this NCO in positions of leadership, which showed poor judgment, the military official said. Others were punished for failing to take corrective actions and effectively implement the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, known as SHARP, according to Army Forces Command.
While some leaders were relieved from their positions, others received General Officer Memorandums of Reprimand — a written reprimand that goes into a soldier’s permanent file.
The report described how a toxic leader in one platoon created an “intimidating, hostile environment,” and those able to stop the harassment failed to do so. Guillen’s platoon exemplified on a small scale how soldiers’ erosion of trust occurred at Fort Hood, which was found by the independent and internal Army investigations.
In a letter from Garrett to soldiers and the larger military community, the general wrote his command remains committed to learning from the findings of the Army report, and he will “continue to take aggressive actions to place people first and strengthen our culture of trust, dignity and respect.”
The Army investigation, announced in September and under the direction of Gen. John Murray, the commander of Army Futures Command, looked into every echelon of Guillen’s leadership between April 22 and July 1 to learn what her leaders knew and when they knew it. The investigation also looked into allegations from the Guillen family that she had faced sexual harassment during the 15 months that she spent at Fort Hood.
Guillen, a small-arms repairer in the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, disappeared during the workday on April 22, 2020. After more than two months, investigators found her body buried along a river miles from the central Texas Army base. Spc. Aaron Robinson, a fellow soldier in the regiment, is believed to have killed her with a hammer in an arms room that he supervised. When confronted by local law enforcement July 1 in nearby Killeen, Robinson shot himself dead.
Investigations and reforms
During the search for Guillen, some veterans came forward, mainly through social media, with their own stories of sexual assault and harassment and a distrust for the systems in place to protect and support service members who are victims of these attacks. In response, the Army announced two separate investigations into Fort Hood, and two congressional committees announced a joint investigation.
The Fort Hood Independent Review Committee released a report in December that provided 70 recommendations, which led to the firing or suspension of 14 Army leaders. The Army’s newly established People First Task Force is working to implement all of the committee’s recommendations, which include restructuring of the SHARP program and the Army Criminal Investigation Command.
The internal investigation led by Murray found problems that matched those noted by the independent committee — many of which stemmed from soldiers’ distrust of leaders and a high-operational tempo that focused on performance and discounted the well-being of people.
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