- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Army inspectors told Congress on Wednesday that Fort Hood’s sexual assault and harassment prevention programs meet basic service standards, but acknowledged they were not able to examine the unit where slain soldier Vanessa Guillen had been assigned.

Spec. Guillen’s disappearance in April, followed by family members’ claims that she had been sexually harassed by a superior in her unit, prompted the review by the U.S. Army Forces Command inspector general. Gen. Michael Garrett, the four-star commander of U.S. Army Forces Command, ordered an inspection of the post in late June by Army Col. Patrick Wemple, his inspector general, to review how well the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program was faring at the sprawling Texas base.

“No single inspection can be definitive. We believe our inspection results provide an accurate assessment on the SHARP program and climate at Fort Hood,” Col. Wemple said.

But critics say the abuse and violence revealed in Spec. Guillen’s case should be a wake-up call to the Pentagon to be more aggressive in rooting out sexual harassment in the ranks.

Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who heads the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee, said she called Wednesday’s hearing because of a “pernicious military culture” that results in an environment ripe for sexual harassment. In 2018, nearly 25% of all active-duty women in the military reported that they had been sexually harassed or assaulted.

“The rates of sexual harassment have continuously increased. The problem is only getting worse,” she said.

In a case that attracted nationwide attention, Spec. Guillen was last seen in the parking lot of her barracks at Fort Hood in April. After a massive search effort involving Army troops and civilian volunteers, her remains were discovered last month.

Spec. Aaron Robinson, a 20-year-old soldier suspected in the disappearance and slaying, killed himself after police confronted him in Killeen, a town outside Fort Hood.

The victim reportedly confided to her family of a culture of sexual abuse and harassment at the base before her death.

Her family is reportedly traveling to Washington for a rally Thursday to promote a bill that would allow service members to file sexual harassment and assault claims to a third-party agency instead through their chain of command. A White House meeting with President Trump is also being planned, the Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday.

Col. Wemple told the subcommittee that more than 225 soldiers from a dozen battalions completed a written survey on the atmosphere at Fort Hood. They held more than a dozen small-group meetings and conducted a similar number of sessions with sexual harassment workers on post.

Col. Wemple said his staff was unable to conduct a review of Spec. Guillen’s unit, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, because of the several breaking developments in her case at the time. But, a make-up review was wrapped up this week, officials said.

“We observed a SHARP program needing to improve in certain areas, but one with which units generally execute standards,” Col. Wemple said.

Most soldiers, SHARP said, told inspectors they would report if sexually harassed or assaulted. Nearly all of them said leaders take reports of sexual harassment and assault seriously.

“A few soldiers indicated hesitancy to report SHARP incidents for several reasons,” Col. Wemple said.

Among the most prominent reasons given: Junior leaders — both officers and NCOs — often lacked practical experiences in dealing with sexual harassment or assault cases. Also, hiring delays for SHARPS personnel caused problems there, Col. Wemple said.

“Some soldiers indicated the SHARP training they received was repetitious and unimaginative,” Col. Wemple said.

Ms. Speier said military victims of sexual assault and harassment, both women and men, are all too often afraid to report out of a fear of retaliation or not being believed. Spec. Guillen’s death prompted thousands of service members and veterans to come forward and report their own incidents of harassment, she said, adding she will be leading a congressional delegation to Fort Hood next month.

“We’re going to continue to investigate this,” she said.

• Mike Glenn can be reached at mglenn@washingtontimes.com.

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