- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 16, 2020

Sen. Dick Durbin is questioning whether the military is as colorblind and merit-focused as it boasts.

In a letter sent Thursday to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, the Illinois Democrat said the armed forces have often been represented as an institution immune to the kind of questions being raised about racial justice and equality.

There are “ample reasons” to question whether the claims stand up to scrutiny, Mr. Durbin said in his letter.

“Sexual assault and harassment remains a significant problem for service members, from officer to enlisted, and even at service academies. General and flag officer billets continue to be unrepresentative of not only the United States, but also the composition of service members as a whole,” he wrote. “We also continue to learn about service members with ties to extremist groups that promote hate, intolerance and even violence.”

In his letter, Mr. Durbin asked Mr. Esper and Gen. Milley for a “comprehensive” review of the treatment of women and persons of color in the military. The request was made in light of the April 22, 2020 slaying of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen, 20. The Houston native’s dismembered body was discovered buried along a river near Fort Hood in central Texas where she had been stationed.

Investigators said Guillen was killed by another enlisted soldier, Specialist Aaron David Robinson, 20, who fatally shot himself as police approached him in nearby Kileen, Texas.

“Our country is against reflecting on the injustices and systemic discrimination that has led to generations of unfair treatment of so many Americans. In too many cases, this legacy of intolerance has led to violence against and death of those same Americans who are the subject of overt and hidden discrimination,” Mr. Durbin wrote.

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is also calling for “major reforms” within Army ranks after Guillen’s death. Leaders from the organization — along with Rep. Sylvia Garcia, a Texas Democrat who represented the young soldier’s congressional district in Houston — met with Army leaders last week to press for a full and independent investigation into her death.

Ms. Garcia said Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy agreed to recommend a wide-ranging inquiry into the case as well as set-up a panel of experts to examine the culture and environment at Fort Hood.

“We were really heartened by that,” Ms. Garcia said. “This is a great step in the right direction.”

Guillen was assigned to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, one of the oldest units in the Army with a history that pre-dates the Civil War. LULAC is also demanding the unit be disbanded.

Domingo Garcia, the organization’s national president, said the Guillen case and others “have exposed a systemic problem with the Army and other branches of the military.”

“We now have thousands of women who have come forward and said, ‘I was raped. I was abused. I complained. I tried to bring it up and nothing happened,’” Mr. Garcia said.

Mr. Garcia said there is systemic sexual harassment and abuse of women in the military and he hopes the commission ordered by Mr. McCarthy will remedy that.

“When a woman puts on the uniform and agrees to serve our country and takes that oath, she should be treated equally to the men,” Mr. Garcia said. “When they are abused and their cries for help are not heard, there is a definite problem that we have to deal with.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide