The motive for the slaying of 20-year-old Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen remains under investigation but her allegations of sexual harassment from her superiors at Fort Hood, Texas, have prompted a wave of similar complaints from other women and men in the military.
Her case also has triggered several investigations, including one to look into the command climate at the massive Army post, located about 70 miles north of Austin. At least nine Fort Hood soldiers have died this year, with several of the deaths - including Spc. Guillen - listed as foul play. At a press conference on Thursday, Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy said he wants answers.
“We’re sending down independent investigators to understand the root causes,” he said, following a day spent talking to several groups of troops there. “The Army is committed to taking a hard look at ourselves and, in doing so, there has been a reckoning.”
Mr. McCarthy did not have any additional details into the death of Spc. Guillen, saying the criminal investigation is ongoing.
Police said Spc. Guillen was killed by Spc. Aaron David Robinson, another soldier in her unit, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood. She disappeared in April and her remains were discovered in late June buried in a shallow grave. The Guillen family’s lawyer has said she complained of being sexually harassed by Spc. Robinson, who took his life as officers were closing in on him for the killing.
“We are a reflection of the country. At times people infiltrate our ranks,” Mr. McCarthy said. “We have to find them and root them out.”
Although Army criminal investigators said they have no records of her filing any formal sexual harassment complaints, Mr. McCarthy said the command climate review team will uncover whether a toxic environment exists at Fort Hood.
“Is it (just Guillen’s unit) or is it larger? Is it the entire installation?” Mr. McCarthy said. “The only thing we can do is come together and have very hard conversations and invest in each other.”
During his two-day Fort Hood trip, Mr. McCarthy also announced a new program called Project Inclusion to address what he called “behaviors that tear at the fabric of our force.”
Project Inclusion will look at a number of issues in the Army, including lack of diversity, discrimination, sexual harassment and assault and suicides.
“Vanessa is our teammate and we let her down,” Mr. McCarthy said. “We’re going to do everything we can to learn from this and move on.”