Dec 8, 2020
Fort Hood Press Conference on Vanessa Guillen Investigation Transcript December 8
Army officials held a press conference on December 8 to address the investigation into Vanessa Guillen’s death and “high numbers of crimes and deaths at Fort Hood.” Read the transcript of the news briefing here.
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Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (00:00)
At Fort Hood, the independent review of Fort Hood’s command climate. So this’ll be a longer statement.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (00:06)
The murder of Specialist Vanessa Guillen shocked our conscience and brought attention to deeper problems. The initial investigation into Vanessa’s death, coupled with high numbers of crimes and deaths at Fort Hood, has revealed a series of missteps and multiple failures in our system and within our leadership.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (00:29)
For that reason, on July 30th, I directed the Undersecretary of the Army, Mr. James McPherson, to establish an independent review committee to review the culture at Fort Hood. Sectary McPherson, with the help of the League of United Latin American Citizens and some members of Congress, selected a diverse and highly experienced panel to determine whether the command climate and culture at Fort Hood and the surrounding military community reflected the Army’s values, including safety, respect, inclusiveness, and a commitment to diversity and workplaces and communities free from sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (01:11)
The panel, led by Chris Swecker, also included Jonathan Harmon, Carrie Ricci, Queta Rodriguez and Jack White. You’ll have an opportunity to speak with them shortly, and we will make their report available to the public.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (01:28)
Over the course of 103 days, the panel surveyed 31,612 soldiers, interviewed 647 soldiers, and met with civic and elected leaders, local law enforcement leaders, and the local district attorneys.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (01:46)
On November 9, the panel brief the Army’s senior leaders and provided nine findings and 70 recommendations.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (01:56)
The findings of the committee identified major flaws with sexual harassment and assault response prevention program from implementation, reporting and adjudication, fundamental issues with Fort Hood criminal investigation command field office activities that led to unaddressed problems on Fort Hood, and finally, a command climate at Fort Hood that was permissive of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (02:26)
Further, the committee made 70 recommendations to improve the following areas, overall Sharp program structure, Fort Hood criminal investigation field office command activities, Army missing soldier protocols, Fort Hood crime prevention and response activities, Army-wide command climate issues, and Fort Hood public affairs activities.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (02:53)
The tragic death of Vanessa Guillen and a rash of other challenges at Fort Hood forced us to take a critical look at our systems, our policies, and ourselves, but without leadership, systems don’t matter. This is not about metrics, but about possessing the ability to have the human decency to show compassion for our teammates and to look out for the best interest of our soldiers.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (03:23)
This report, without a doubt, will cause the Army to change our culture. I have decided to accept all these findings in whole. In response, we have created the People First Task Force to map out a plan to tackle them. We have formed a mechanism to ensure we have the right systems and resources, while focusing on commitment over compliance.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (03:53)
While the independent review focused on the command climate and culture at Fort Hood, the findings contained in the committee’s report impact the entire Army of more than one million soldiers, 247,000 civilians, and their families. The People First Task Force will analyze the findings and 70 recommendations in the report, develop a plan to address the issues identified by the committee, and reevaluate current policy and programs.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (04:26)
The Army will begin implementation by March, 2021. The task force chairs are Ms. Diane Randon, Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff, G2, Lieutenant General Gary Brito, the Army, G1, and Sergeant Major Julie Garah, Army G2.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (04:45)
I’ve also signed a new missing soldier policy. The policy will assist in tracking and finding missing soldiers. It clarifies expectations and responsibilities of unit commanders and law enforcement authorities, focusing on the first 48 hours a soldier is missing. It creates new processes for soldiers reporting to duty status and casualty status, for supporting missing soldiers’ families, and aids in identifying whether the absence is voluntary before calling it absent without leave.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (05:20)
And finally, we need the right leadership. I’ve determined the issues at Fort Hood are directly related to leadership failures. Leaders drive culture and are responsible for everything the unit does or does not happen to do.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (05:40)
I am gravely disappointed that leaders failed to effectively create a climate that treated all soldiers with dignity and respect, and they failed to reinforce everyone’s obligation to prevent and properly respond to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (05:58)
Because of this, to restore trust and confidence and accountability, I directed the relief and/or suspension of commanders and other leaders from the Corp to the squad level. I have directed the relief of the III Corp Deputy Commanding General for Support, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment Command Team, and suspended the 1st Cavalry Division Command Team pending the results of a new investigation into the command climate of the division. In total, 14 leaders have been relieved or suspended from their positions.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (06:36)
In addition, we are directing an investigation regarding criminal investigation command resourcing policies and procedures. Accountability and transparency are foundational as we move forward. We have a great deal of work ahead of us. This is an initial step to addressing and fixing these issues. Even though we are part of one of the most respected institutions in the world, living up to the American people’s trust is something we have to do every day.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (07:09)
I believe in this institution and its officers, non-commissioned officers, soldiers, civilians, and their families with every fiber of my being because of the extraordinary things they do on a daily basis. I’m confident in our leaders’ ability to overcome this challenge and to continue to win our nation’s wars, while caring for our people.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (07:35)
General McConville: (07:43)
Well, good afternoon. We appreciate the work of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee and the feedback that this report has given us. We own the results. And we’ve asked a lot of the Army and of Fort Hood over the last 19 years during continuous deployments to combat. And we know in the Army that we are not perfect, but what makes us the greatest army in the world is that we recognize where we must change. We acknowledge our issues and we fix them.
General McConville: (08:21)
Prior to coming here, I talked to Mrs. Guillen, Vanessa’s mother. And I told her that we’re going to fix these issues and change the culture that allowed them to happen. I told her we must and will provide a safe and secure environment for American sons and daughters that served in the Army. As the Secretary said, we are holding leaders accountable and we will fix this.
General McConville: (08:50)
Tomorrow, we are briefing the Army senior leaders on this report and we will ensure it is understood, and our plan to move forward will be implemented throughout the Army. We have been trusted to lead the world’s greatest soldiers. It is our sacred duty to protect our soldiers so we can defend our nation. That is what we do. Thank you.
Speaker 1: (09:17)
[inaudible 00:09:17] our first question.
Speaker 2: (09:23)
First question is can you address just more broadly why it sounds as though General White is not included among those touched by the administrative actions? Why not? And then also, how widespread do you believe these problems are beyond Fort Hood? Because you seem to suggest that 19 years of war [inaudible 00:09:51] on this and maybe one of the causational factors. Is that what you are saying?
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (10:00)
[ inaudible 00:09:59], it’s Ryan McCarthy. With respect to General White, he was deployed for 13 months and our standard practice, and I’d like General McConville to comment as well, but General White was deployed for 13 months. Our standard practice is that we delegate a senior mission commander to take the role of running the Garrison activities. So in this case, it had been a standard practice that we’ve used for I think over a decade in the formation.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (10:27)
With respect to the comments that we both made related to [inaudible 00:10:30], we are concerned that there could be other systemic challenges across the formation, and that’s why, to the Chief’s point, we’re going to utilize this report as a means to look at systems and programs and also leadership approaches to how we address these difficult issues.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (10:51)
Chief, anything you want to add?
General McConville: (10:51)
Just on General White, I think it’s really important. He did a fabulous job in Iraq over the last 13 days. And leadership is about presence. And when you’re in Iraq for 13 months, that’s why we appoint a general officer to be the senior commander.
General McConville: (11:10)
And as far as other issues, we’re about excellence. I said we’re not perfect, but we strive for excellence. We need to take a hard look at ourselves. That’s why we’re the best Army in the world. And that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to take these results. We’re going to make sure that every single leader sees these results. Some will say we reflect society. I don’t want to reflect society in these type of issues. I want to make sure that we have a environment where everyone is treated with dignity, respect, and everyone takes care of each other. And we expect our leaders to do that, and that’s what we’re going to do.
Speaker 1: (11:46)
And we have time for one final question in the room, Louis Martinez.
Louis Martinez: (11:50)
Mr. Secretary and General, you talked how this is going to change the Army, but why did it take a review panel and why did it take Vanessa Guillen’s disappearance and murder for you to look inward at these programs that obviously now, in retrospect, look like they’ve failed massively?
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (12:11)
I think the level, the caliber of work that was provided in this independent review panel brought a fresh look and helped us look at a lot of challenges that we have had that are potentially systemic, but some of them were also within the leadership. So I think the fresh eyes and having some other support has helped us in this process.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (12:32)
Chief [inaudible 00:12:31], anything you want to add?
Louis Martinez: (12:36)
If I could follow-up, sir.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (12:37)
Louis Martinez: (12:37)
I mean, yes, this is the leadership with regards to this issue, but it sounds like the report says that Sharp is structurally not working, and that is an Army-wide program. So then why can’t you say that the program itself needed complete restructuring or why wasn’t it updated regularly so that you could see that there were issues at hand?
Secretary Ryan McCarthy: (12:58)
Really, this body of work has identified things that we had not seen previously. That’s why we have accepted all of the findings in whole. I previously have seen independent panels that have looked at the mishandling of nuclear weapons at Walter Reed. A lot of great reporting, quite frankly, as well as outside fresh perspective help us look at ourselves and see challenges that we didn’t see. And you’ll have them come out here in a minute, but they helped us, and that’s going to help us with the institution so we can get better across the board.
Speaker 1: (13:32)
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you. The Secretary does not have much time. Yes, there’s a press release that should be in your inbox now. So the Fort Hood Independent Review Panel will be out. We’re going to switch, bring out the new panel, and they’ll be here to take your questions. Thank you very much.
Speaker 1: (13:49)
Elizabeth Chamberlin: (14:34)
Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us. I’m Elizabeth Chamberlin from Army Public Affairs. Today you’ll hear from the members of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee. Chris Swecker, Jonathan Harmon, Carrie Richie, Queta Rodriguez, and Jack White. This briefing will last 45 minutes ending no later than 1:00.
Elizabeth Chamberlin: (14:55)
Before I introduce the committee members, I have several announcements. If you RSVP’d for this briefing, you previously received an embargoed press release along with an embargoed copy of the executive summary of the report of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee. That embargo’s now lifted.
Elizabeth Chamberlin: (15:15)
Very soon, you’ll receive an updated version of the press release with a second release outlining the accountability actions Secretary McCarthy just announced.
Elizabeth Chamberlin: (15:27)
The Army’s new Fort Hood Independent Review website, army.mil/forthoodreview, will go live shortly. On this site, you’ll find both press releases, a link to download the 136 page redacted report, and additional background materials.
Elizabeth Chamberlin: (15:47)
This briefing will begin with an opening statement from Mr. Swecker on behalf of the committee. Afterward, the committee members will take questions relating to the report and their findings and recommendations. For the Q&A segment, please allow me to acknowledge you before asking your question.
Elizabeth Chamberlin: (16:03)
Please allow me to acknowledge you before asking your question. Please provide your name and affiliation. Limit yourself to one question and one follow-up. I’ll call on reporters in the room and on the phone line. I’ll provide a warning when we have time for one more question. And now Mr. Swecker will read an opening statement on behalf of the committee.
Chris Swecker: (16:26)
Good afternoon, and thank you for attending today. My name is Chris Swecker. I’m the chair of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee. I’m a practicing attorney in Charlotte, North Carolina. I’m also of counsel with Miller & Martin out of Tennessee. And I’m retired from the FBI after 24 years, retiring as assistant director of the FBI. To my far left is Jonathan Harmon. He’s chairman of McGuireWoods law firm. He is a nationally recognized trial attorney who previously served as an Army officer at Fort Hood in the first cavalry division after graduating from West Point. To my immediate left in the front is Carrie Ricci. She is a retired Army JAG officer who served three years at Fort Hood, including as trial counsel, and is now a senior executive serving as an associate attorney general counsel for the US Department of Agriculture.
Chris Swecker: (17:22)
Just behind Ms. Ricci is Queta Rodriguez. She is a retired Marine Corps officer who served 20 years on active duty. She currently serves as regional director for FourBlock, which is a veteran-serving, nonprofit organization. To my right is Jack White. He’s a partner at FH and L law firm where his practice focuses on government investigations and civil rights claims. He served as a law clerk at the US Supreme Court after graduating from West Point and serving as an armor officer in the active Army and the US Army Reserve. So after that introduction, I’m going to read a very brief statement and turn it back over to Elizabeth.
Chris Swecker: (18:06)
On July 30th, 2020, the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee was chartered by the secretary of the Army to conduct a comprehensive independent review of the Fort Hood command climate and culture and assess its impact on the health, safety, and readiness of its soldiers and units, particularly as it related to preventing sexual assault, harassment, crime issues affecting soldiers, and missing soldier protocols. We began our work immediately. The committee members who had never met each other prior to their appointment were tasked to organize themselves, devise a strategy for the review, gather relevant facts, and complete a final report to the secretary within 90 days. All of the members have day jobs with significant responsibilities. We couldn’t cast those aside. However, we accepted this appointment based on our shared belief that an independent body could indeed assess the serious issues at hand, and if necessary, provide a roadmap towards constructive change. Each member of the committee accepted this appointment with the intention and a hope of supporting the mission and wellbeing of our brave soldiers. The final report was delivered to the secretary of the Army on November 6th. We briefed the secretary of the Army and the Army command on November 18th of this year. Before we go any further, let me emphasize that the secretary, Secretary McCarthy, under Secretary McPherson, and Chief of Staff McConville provided us absolute independence to do our job. We were authorized access to every available source of information, and we were provided a full Army staff, including a brigadier general, two colonels, several lieutenant colonels, any master sergeant, each of whom stood ready to support our mission. Although the establishment of an independent committee of civilians to review a US Army command’s actions is not unprecedented, it is extremely rare and it reflects a sincere desire to identify the issues and address them. The secretary and undersecretary also approved and facilitated the addition of five former FBI special agents and civilian administrative support to provide much needed assistance to the team.
Chris Swecker: (20:26)
We visited Fort Hood for 19 days in August and September. We conducted 647 individual interviews. We did 80 group interviews, which encompassed over 1800 soldiers, and we conducted over 140 specialized interviews of various stakeholders on and off the post. We retrieved and analyzed thousands of pages of documents, commissioned 49 formal research projects, and conducted a survey tailored for this review, which drew over 31,000 responses from the Fort Hood community, representing what we were told is 100% of the targeted audience. The review focused on the period 2018 through 2020. However, information from the last five years was considered if it was deemed relevant to the review.
Chris Swecker: (21:16)
After three months of diligent work, the committee issued nine findings and 70 constructive recommendations. The report leads off with finding number one, which states that the command at Fort Hood was ineffective in its implementation of the Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention program, the SHARP program. This was due to under-emphasis of the program outside the three core headquarters and a failure to culturally integrate the program through the enlisted ranks where almost 90% of sexual assault victims are found.
Chris Swecker: (21:50)
The committee noted that while the Fort Hood leadership afforded the highest priority to maintaining equipment, conducting field training, and ensuring deployment capability, a series of command elements executed these duties in a manner that was at the expense of the health and safety of all soldiers, but particularly for women at the brigade level and below. This dearth of command emphasis on the SHARP program adversely impacted mission readiness in terms of morale, re-enlistments, and recruitments. The committee also found that soldier accountability was not strictly enforced, and there was no missing soldier protocols for first-line supervisors. This resulted in ad hoc responses to soldiers who failed to report and may have been in jeopardy. With respect to the crime issues at Fort Hood, the committee determined that the crime environment within the surrounding cities and counties is commensurate with similar size areas in Texas and around the United States. However, serious crime problems on Fort Hood have gone unaddressed because the installation is in a fully reactive posture. Leaders across a series of commands failed to use best practices in the areas of public safety to develop and execute crime suppression strategies. The committee found that the serious crime problems on the installation at Fort Hood require proactive command action to mitigate. The committee also found that the Fort Hood CID detachment had various inefficiencies that adversely impacted accomplishments of its mission. The committee wishes to thank the secretary of the Army, the undersecretary of the Army, and the Army chief of staff, and the Army staff that they provided for the strong support they provided to this committee.
Chris Swecker: (23:39)
So I just want to add that we were all fully immersed in all aspects of the review, but each of us had a focus area. So when you ask a question, we may have that person come up to the podium and we’ll switch positions. So bear with us as we do the switch. Thank you.
Elizabeth Chamberlin: (23:55)
Thank you, Mr. Swecker. We’ll now take our first question, which goes to Lita Baldor, AP, on the phone.
Lita Baldor: (24:04)
Hi. I had a question earlier, so I’ll let someone else ask. Go ahead.
Elizabeth Chamberlin: (24:08)
Kyle Rempfer, Military Times, also on the phone.
Kyle Rempfer: (24:14)
Hi, thanks for doing this. So we just heard that 14 senior commanders or 14 commanders there at Fort Hood were relieved or suspended, but how far back do the problems that you guys identified go? Is this something that just developed in the past 12 months, or does this extend years back here? How long has this been in development?
Chris Swecker: (24:37)
Well, I’m going to refer to the report. We look back as early as 2014. There were issues that were called out. If you look at it in terms of risk management, it became a known risk very early in the process. We did not fix accountability on any specific general officer or any particular commander for that very reason. Particularly in the last five years, which was really the more relevant time period, it was not an act of commission. These were acts of omission, if you will. These were things that were not done. These were not things that were done that were to the detriment of the soldiers, particularly the female soldiers. Does anybody else want to add to that?
Elizabeth Chamberlin: (25:27)
Okay, next question. Haley Britzky.
Haley Britzky: (25:30)
Thank you. Haley Britzky with Task & Purpose. In your conversations with soldiers and your interviews with them, can you tell us about some of the points that you heard repeatedly, some of the concerns or complaints that they had regarding the sexual assault and harassment program?
Chris Swecker: (25:44)
Yes. The individual interviews, especially, were pretty revealing. Of the 647, 503 were female soldiers. What we found was that there was a fear of retaliation, all forms of retaliation, stigmatism, ostracism, derailing a career, assignments, work assignments, and that sort of thing. There was a fear, and a founded fear, that the confidentiality of the reporting process would be compromised. There was a lack of any appreciation for the results or the response because it took so long to get an adjudication that people never saw the adjudication, so they lost faith in that. There are many other things that came out of the interviews, as you will read in the report. But let me open it up to the other panel members. Does anybody else… I will say that Queta and Carrie did the individual interviews, and they may have something to say about that. But they were very revealing.
Carrie Ricci: (26:57)
I just want to add that one of the things that the soldiers at Fort Hood, many of them needed, was to be believed, and that was what we did. We listened. And so if any of them see this, I want them to know we believe you. And that’s a really important takeaway was to believe. That’s all I wanted to add.
Queta Rodriguez: (27:24)
As Mr. Swecker just stated, I spent a bulk of my time during the course of our time at Fort Hood interviewing these individuals. As he mentioned, 503 of the 647 were women. We made a very concerted effort to interview every single woman within specific units, in particular, the unit that Vanessa Guillen belonged to. And what we did discover, which was one of the really shocking elements or parts of the interview period, were the number of unreported sexual harassment and sexual assault incidents. Of the 503 women that we interviewed, we discovered 93 credible accounts of sexual assault. Of those, only 59 were reported. And we also found 135, I’m sorry, 217 unreported accounts of sexual harassment. So that’s a really significant number. Of those, just over half were reported.
Queta Rodriguez: (28:26)
And so what we discovered during the course of those interviews is that due to the lack of confidence in the system, that lack of confidence absolutely affects the reporting of those incidents. And obviously if we’re not able to capture those incidents, then it’s almost impossible to address that. But again, as Mr Swecker alluded to, there were other indicators that this was a problem, and so that’s something that the report really focused on. And the interview period of all of those individuals really focused on just letting people speak to us. They knew that we were an independent panel. None of us are on active duty, which I think was very significant in their willingness to speak with us and to just believe, as Ms. Ricci just said.
Elizabeth Chamberlin: (29:14)
Okay, thank you. Next question we’ll go to the phone. Jasmin Caldwell, KCEN 6, Texas.
Speaker 3: (29:22)
It’s difficult for those of us on the phone.
Speaker 4: (29:26)
They probably want you to identify yourselves before you speak.
Elizabeth Chamberlin: (29:31)
Yes. Panelists, if you could… Committee members, if you could identify yourselves before you speak, that would help the people on the phone. Good reminder. Thank you. Jasmin Caldwell, did you have a question?
Jasmin Caldwell: (29:45)
Hi, yes. You were just talking about the reported sexual assault and harassment on Fort Hood. Out of the ones that were reported, were they properly handled?
Chris Swecker: (30:03)
It was all over the place in terms of adjudications. When you say properly handled, the ones that were reported went through the process. If they were sexual assaults, they went to the criminal investigative division, the detachment there for investigation. If they’re harassment, there was an appointed investigating officer out of the brigade where the complaint took place. What we saw were, and this may be an area where Ms. Ricci can address it as well because she was a former JAG officer and she concentrated in this part of it, we saw a lot of delayed justice, if you will. The old saying, justice delayed, justice denied, the process was so long and drawn out that most people never saw the actual result. So there was no deterrent, or at least there was no visible deterrent. We found that delays were built into the process and nobody was monitoring the life cycle of a sexual assault or sexual harassment complaint, so nobody really knew how long it took. Nobody had the responsibility to track how long it took or different parts of the process. Let me ask Ms. Ricci to come up and address that as well, if you will.
Carrie Ricci: (31:15)
Sure. I don’t have too much more to add. I will say that at Fort Hood they have really organized themselves well to prosecute sexual assault. They’re not the easiest cases to try, and they have some expertise. But what we found, as Chris mentioned, was that there are delays in the process that become very troublesome for a victim. Imagine that you’re still waiting for justice more than a year later. So I can’t really add too much more. It’s all in the report, but we did find some areas where improvement could be found.
Elizabeth Chamberlin: (31:52)
Okay. Yes. Go ahead.
Terace Garnier: (31:53)
Yes, I’m Terace Garnier with Newsy. I’ve followed this issue a lot, as far as sexual assaults in the military, and one of the things that I’ve found when I’ve interviewed different survivors and also former OSI agents were when-
Speaker 5: (32:03)
… survivors and also former OSI Agents were… One of the issues was they keep changing those who are investigating this. So you have one person who investigates and he’s like, “Oh, snap, I have to deploy. Let me pass this documentation to someone else.” Now they have to pick it up. They’re new to it. They don’t know the case. And a lot of times that’s what’s dragging it on. And also a lot of evidence is being lost because of it. So what do you recommend ways to fix that issue where you’re not having multiple people investigating the same issue and just kind of passing it off from one person to the next?
Carrie Ricci: (32:35)
They said the report is very detailed about the criminal investigation divisions and recommendations. And on that, I will have Mr. Swecker continue to talk on that topic because he did a very detailed review.
Speaker 6: (32:46)
Chris Swecker: (32:50)
So we did indeed look at the whole process. There are different components that have a role, the JAG officers have a role, CID has a role. What we found within CID, and this is may not be just at Fort Hood, is that they were using Fort Hood as a training ground for CID agents. High turnover, fairly chronic under staffing throughout the time period that we looked at, and inexperience.
Chris Swecker: (33:17)
So of the 45 special agents assigned there, there were probably about 35, I think we determined, that were actually working cases. Out of those 35 there might have been 3 or 4 that had more than 2 years of experience. So they were rotating through. They were coming out of Fort Leonard Wood, going straight to Fort Hood uncredentialed apprentice agents. And then within two years they were rotating out very quickly.
Chris Swecker: (33:43)
So to your point, there was a lot of attrition of the case agents and the agents working these investigations. Many of them were over assigned. Some of the investigative tools that most law enforcement agencies have, they didn’t necessarily have at their fingertips, cell phone tracking, mirroring or extracting information from cell phones and mobile devices, which is a very critical investigative techniques in today’s investigations. They needed more and better equipment and much faster turnover.
Chris Swecker: (34:15)
There were delays in other areas as well. When a pass off goes to the JAG Officers or to the Command military-justice advisor, there were delays there in getting an opinion of probable cause. There were delays in getting an assignment of a victim counsel assigned to the victim. So, all of that combined and conspired to make it a very long and drawn out process. Anyone else?
Speaker 6: (34:44)
Yes. Go ahead.
Cristina Londono: (34:46)
Yeah. Cristina Londono with Telemundo. I was wondering how instrumental was Vanessa Guillen’s family in this investigation and who talked to her?
Chris Swecker: (34:58)
I’m going to hand the podium over to Jack White who did talk to the family and has some perspectives for you on that.
Jack White: (35:08)
So this whole committee was precipitated by the unfortunate events with Specialist Guillen. And as we put together our methodology, talking with the family to engage in a two-way communication, was important to us at the outset. At the outset, we wanted to communicate to the family that their perspective was important and that something was being done about what they had experienced.
Jack White: (35:45)
But in looking at the culture, we wanted to hear from them about what their experience was when their daughter was missing. When the search was ongoing. What were the interactions with the command? All of that is a component of the culture. So Ms. Richie and I sat down with the family, Mrs. Guillen, Mr. Guillen, their daughters and we talked for hours to understand what their experience was. Indeed, I spoke with Mrs. Guillen as recently as this morning to inform her of what was happening today and to assure her that the conversation that she had with us was meaningful. We learned a lot about their experience and whatever we learned is reflected in the report and will not be lost.
Cristina Londono: (36:52)
Were they happy with the recommendations that are coming through? Do they feel that it made an impact? Because that’s what they were fighting for this whole time.
Jack White: (37:02)
I do not want to speak for them. I walked away from my conversation with Mrs. Guillen this morning believing that she is pleased that there is progress being made. I do not believe that she has had the benefit, that the family has had the benefit, of reviewing the report and our findings and recommendations yet.
Speaker 6: (37:28)
Next question we’ll go to the phone. Matt Cox, military.com. Do you have a question?
Matt Cox: (37:33)
Yes. Hi, thank you for doing this. I did have a question about your findings on the Fort Hood Criminal Investigation Detachment. One of the big things of this was that the Guillen family said that Vanessa Guillen since she told them that she was a victim of sexual harassment and possibly assault. And CID was very adamant that, “Well, we found no evidence of that. We found no credible evidence of anything like that.”
Matt Cox: (38:06)
Are you saying that that’s a flawed finding and was there any evidence that you found? Can you speak to that as far as what that says what these findings about the CID Detachments say to that? You know, whether there was evidence that maybe had been overlooked? That makes sense?
Chris Swecker: (38:34)
That is the subject of a separate Army investigation, which is going very deep into that area. I don’t want to step on an investigation. I will say this, there is a misunderstanding on one part of that. CID did not find any evidence that Specialist Robinson sexually harassed Vanessa Guillen, and I’ll leave it at that. Because we looked at the Guillen case as a case study in terms of the overall broader topic that we were looking at and the subjects that we were looking at. But once the separate investigation was announced, we did not… We are not the investigating body for the issues involving the potential sexual harassment or any other issues involving Vanessa Guillen inside her unit. I’m not dodging this question, it’s an ongoing thing and we don’t want to taint that investigation in any way.
Speaker 6: (39:35)
[inaudible 00:39:42] Ma’am you mentioned a bunch of numbers about 503 accounts. I’m wondering if you could just clarify them. Because you said there were 217 unreported accounts of sexual harassment, is that correct? But then you also said that about half of them had been reported, can you just run through those numbers again? Do you mind?
Queta Rodriguez: (40:03)
Yes. During the course of our interviews, it was 647 individual interviews. That included both men and women, but there were 503 women that were interviewed. Of those, we discovered 93 credible accounts of sexual assault. And again, those were just individuals, soldiers, who were telling us that this had happened to them. Of those 59, when we asked the question which was part of the interview, “Did you report this or was it reported?” The answer was no… I’m sorry, was yes. Fifty-nine of those. That was the extent of those.
Queta Rodriguez: (40:42)
For sexual harassment, we discovered 217 credible accounts of sexual harassment. Of those, and I’ll give you that specific number that were actually reported…
Speaker 6: (40:59)
For those of you on the phone this is Ms. Rodriguez speaking.
Queta Rodriguez: (41:02)
And all of these numbers, these specific numbers, are included in the report.
Speaker 7: (41:06)
Queta Rodriguez: (41:10)
No, it was… I apologize. I don’t know the number. It is in the report. Yes. Those specific numbers are actually called out in the report.
Okay, thank you. And then Ms. Ricci, can I just get you to expand a little bit on what you meant when you said that people just wanted to be believed? Were women not coming forward with reporting these things and not being believed and that was a lot of what you heard?
Carrie Ricci: (41:29)
It was two things. It was cases where there was either no resolution or an unsatisfactory resolution, which happens. And once it happens with one soldier, every soldier in the unit learns of what’s happening. And for the other women in that unit, it became a sense that, “They didn’t believe us,” even if they served as a witness, “We weren’t believed.” And then other women would say, “Because of what happened to this soldier, I wouldn’t feel comfortable coming forward.”
Carrie Ricci: (42:07)
So there was an overall sense that there is that reluctance to report because, “Who is going to believe us?” Especially for a junior enlisted woman and especially one who maybe isn’t their star soldier at the moment. There’s that reluctance and that feeling that, “We won’t be believed.” And there were soldiers who just didn’t report because they felt that. So just being able to talk one-on-one and to hear their very personal and sometimes very difficult stories, to be able to tell them and to… It was a little bit cathartic for many of them because someone was listening and they felt that they were being heard. So it was important to me to say, “We heard you and we believe you.”
Speaker 6: (42:54)
Let’s go to the phone, Carson Frame, Texas Public Radio. Are you on the line and do you have a question?
Carson Frame: (43:05)
Yes. Thank you for taking my question. Essentially it boils down to, you’ve looked over the SHARP program and the criminal investigative response at Fort Hood. How much would you say of these issues are Fort Hood specific versus enterprise wide, an Army problem?”
Jack White: (43:28)
This is Jack White. I’ll start here, I’m sure that Mr. Swecker will follow me. I want to start with our charter. Our charter was to look at Fort Hood and that is what we did. But we are not oblivious to the fact that this is one Army and Fort Hood is potentially emblematic of other things going on in the Army. SHARP is an Army wide program. So some of our observations, while we saw them at Fort Hood, may very well be similar at other installations. A great number of our recommendations are Fort Hood specific because that’s where we were on the ground. And at Fort Hood, our methodology permitted us to kick the tires on just about everything at Fort Hood. But some of our recommendations look beyond just Fort Hood. Because, as I said, the SHARP program is an Army wide program. Some of our recommendations in other areas look beyond Fort Hood as well. Chris. [crosstalk 00:44:52]
Jon Harmon: (44:54)
This is Jon Harmon. I agree with what Jack has described and it became very apparent as we were going through the investigation, and then afterwards, that the Army was going to take these and apply them broader. And you heard from the secretary and you heard from the chief and, as Jack indicated, our charter was just to Fort Hood. But we have four of the five members on this panel have served in the military, two of us at Fort Hood and so we know what it’s like.
Jon Harmon: (45:28)
So we were very pleased to hear from the secretary and the chief about using this Army wide. So again, our charter was focused solely on Fort Hood, but as Jack articulated and as, again, the secretary and the chief have said, they’re going to use this to make Army wide changes. Which we applaud.
Chris Swecker: (45:53)
And just to add to that, those 49 research projects that we commissioned went deep. And they make comparisons to other installations across the Army. So we weren’t, as was mentioned, we weren’t oblivious to what was going on at other installations around the Army. We made a lot of comparisons to how things were going at other installations. And we also heard stories from soldiers who had served at other installations. We did note, however, that in many cases Fort Hood was an outlier. In things like AWOL, suicides and other issues in comparison to some of these other installations. So Fort Hood was enough of an outlier that we felt like we really, really had to concentrate on what we had in front of us.
Speaker 6: (46:43)
Speaker 8: (46:47)
[inaudible 00:46:47] with Univision. We’re talking about 70 recommendations and secretary McCarthy said that he’s going to take all of them. I would like to know what the role of this panel will be moving forward for accountability purposes, to make sure those changes are implemented?
Chris Swecker: (47:02)
So the People First Task Force has been established. One of the colonels that we worked with very closely and supported us is the Chief of Staff for that task force. We’ll be in touch with him and he’ll be in touch with us. And we will be in some sense, not overseeing it directly, but we’ll be watching the implementation of the 70 recommendations. We didn’t expect, nor nor did we ever think that all 70 recommendations would be accepted. So that’s that’s a bit of a surprise, but I think it reflects a willingness on the part of the Secretary, the Under Secretary and the Chief of Staff to fix things.
Chris Swecker: (47:43)
It was a risk to bring an independent review committee in, we recognize that. We could have gone anywhere and done anything, and we wanted to do this right and we wanted to do this fairly. And we’re very happy with the way the Army has accepted these recommendations as going forward.
Speaker 6: (48:02)
Next question on the phone-
Speaker 9: (48:03)
Next question on the phone, Alex Horton, Washington Post. Did you have a question?
Alex Horton: (48:08)
Yes, I did. Thank you. You guys have spent some time focused on sexual harassment and assault. I was curious if you were looking at other kinds of violence at Fort Hood to include other murders, other high profile incidents, including those who disappeared and were later found dead. And I was curious, what you have found in terms of army culture of how the brand of AWOL and the brand of going missing, contribute to a lack of interest in finding them.
Chris Swecker: (48:45)
Yes. that was a big focus of the review and the report. We looked at crime issues on the base. We looked at crime issues off the base. I think there was a perception really based on media stories, that there was some sort of crime wave around the surrounding area of the base. What we found was that their crime rates in the areas surrounding the base were relatively low in comparison to other cities outside, both major army installations, but other comparable size cities. That’s not to say that there weren’t soldier victims off the base and soldier subjects off the base, because there’s a large population of active duty soldiers living off base, retired soldiers, separated soldiers and their families, so you’re going to find victims off the base. But what we found really was that on the base, there were some hot crime areas that relatively high, violent felonies, sexual assaults, sex crimes, drugs, positive drug tests were the highest in the Army.
Chris Swecker: (49:51)
So we found areas of crime on the installation that if you compare them to civilian crime rates might be low, but this is a military installation. It’s a gated community. There are a lot of tools that you can use to suppress crime. What we found was that there was no proactive efforts to suppress crime, to address drug issues, to address violent crimes. Suicides were extremely high. And what we found was that because CID was so inexperienced and so taxed for resources, they really didn’t dive deep on suicides to find out why and what was happening that was the trigger for the suicide, the death cases.
Chris Swecker: (50:33)
There aren’t an anomalous number of death cases at Fort Hood in terms of homicides, but the homicides that did occur got intense media attention and we looked very hard at those homicides. And again, what we found was in the death cases, CID just needed more experience and more continuity inside the detachment there. And it may be systemic across CID that there just isn’t enough longevity at the post on the part of the investigator, so we made some recommendations regarding making sure there are experienced agents there, may be going to more civilian investigators and it’s something we ask them to look at. Yes.
Jack White: (51:23)
This is Jack White. And Chris is speaking to some very valuable information on specific criminal, the viewpoint from a criminal perspective. But something else that we did here is we looked at what is it that leads a soldier to behave in this type of manner. And in the process of looking at that, one of the things that the report contains is looking at the other armed services, what they do well that might be able to be incorporated within what we do in the Army or what the Army does. And one of the things that we found is that one of the other services looks at the qualities in service members that lead them to violence, the kind of violence that we don’t want in uniformed personnel. And that type of structure would fit well into an Army structure that looks at the whole soldier concept, the 21st century soldier. So we are looking at the criminal component, but we’re also looking at making soldiers more respectful of the contributions of other soldiers within their formation. And some of the other services do that well, and there are some aspects of what they do that we can bring in to what we do in the Army.
Speaker 9: (53:06)
Okay. Question in the room. Mr. Glenn.
Mike Glenn: (53:08)
Hi. Mike Glenn with the Washington Times. It’s one thing to relieve a bunch of colonels and generals to be relieved. Is there anything in the report about sort of emphasizing the responsibility of the first line supervisors, the ones who actually know something’s happening, the squad leaders, platoon sergeant platoon leaders, because I mean, they’re the ones who will know something’s going on before a division commander will ever learn.
Jack White: (53:35)
Okay, I’ll start there. This is Jack White again. The answer is yes, but let me take your question a little bit broader. Our mandate was not focused on attribution and we are very clear that the problems that we saw are cultural and everybody is involved in culture from the highest levels to the one-on-one interaction between the squad leader and his or her squad member. We address all of it without attribution because accountability in that way was not our mandate. That said, yes, we focus on the importance of first-line leaders knowing their soldiers and knowing where they are. Indeed, part of what the DOD is focused on in this whole movement toward violence prevention and looking at the whole soldier is just that, those person to person interactions. And we addressed that in our report as well.
Speaker 9: (54:54)
Thank you. Let’s go to the phone. David Bryant, Killeen Daily Herald. Are you on the phone? Do you have a question?
David Bryant: (55:00)
Yes. Yes. This is David Bryant at Killeen Daily Herald. And thank you for taking my question. Basically what I’m wondering is have you all made any recommendations to ensure that the lower level unit such as your squads, platoons and companies actually comply with the recommendations that you all have made?
Jack White: (55:17)
I’ll let you-
Chris Swecker: (55:27)
Actually, John, do you want to address this one?
Jon Harmon: (55:33)
Sure. I view this as kind of tying in with the question you asked a little bit about the first line leaders and when you have a chance to review the report in detail, you’ll see, as Jack said, and as Chris has said, there are a lot of details in there that go to the squad leader and the platoon sergeant. In this sense, when we were doing our interviews, both individually, and from a group perspective, one of the things we heard over and over and over again from platoon sergeants and squad leaders was that they did not have the time to really get to know their soldiers. And for those of us who had served in the military before, it was very, very shocking because we grew up in a time when the platoon sergeants and the squad leaders had sergeant time and they knew where their soldiers were. They knew their strengths, they knew about their families. And we heard that very, very frequently.
Jon Harmon: (56:34)
So you’ll see woven into the report, I wouldn’t say that there is a specific accountability line directed right at the squad leader, but as you read the report, you will see that as Chris indicated with SHARP and with some of the other programs, they weren’t being mandated down to below the brigade level. And that was certainly true with respect to the platoon sergeants and the squad leaders who, because of the operation tempo, because of the requirements of maintenance and everything else really were unable or did not take the time because of all the other requirements and because it wasn’t emphasized to get to know their soldiers.
Chris Swecker: (57:20)
I will say, just to add, I think that the secretary and General McConville are very much on this topic. They’ve taken some steps already. They took some steps, even after the interim briefing to reemphasize the role of the NCOs, the non-commissioned officers, the first line supervisors and getting to know their soldiers. So if they happen to not report one day, they know exactly where to go to look for them because they know them well enough and they know what’s going on in their lives.
Speaker 9: (57:49)
For those of you on the phone, that was Mr. White followed by Mr. Harmon, followed by Mr. Swecker. We have time for one more question. Sig Christiansen, San Antonio Express News. Are you on the line? Do you have a question? No. Steve Campion, ABC 13 Houston. Are you on the line? Do you have a question?
Steve Campion: (58:15)
Yeah. Steve Campion here with ABC 13 in Houston. We’ve spoken to a lot of the families of missing soldiers there at the base, including Vanessa’s here in Houston and I wanted to see if we might be able to address this. So many of them have told us when a soldier goes missing there on base, there wasn’t a sense of urgency in finding that soldier. It was often seen that this person has gone AWOL. Can you give us a sense of what your review found in terms of that part of this equation? Was there this lack of urgency to find soldiers who went missing there on base?
Chris Swecker: (58:53)
There are two things that we think really impacted that missing soldier failure to report dynamic. One was, from what we saw and actually the Guillen case is a case study, as an example of it, the accountability for soldiers at the first muster or the various musters during the day had slipped, particularly during COVID. And part of that is a function of the NCOs, again, not necessarily knowing enough about their charges, their soldiers under their supervision to know what was normal and what was not in terms of not reporting. The second part of it was with all the regulations and all the protocols in the Army and all the procedures, there was none for a failure to report. There are rules and procedures around AWOL, and when to carry that as a status, as a personnel status. There are rules and procedures around when to carry someone as a dessert or when to enter their names into the National Crime Information Center, NCIC, be on the lookout and that sort of thing.
Chris Swecker: (01:00:01)
But at the front first line level, each NCO had to rely on their own devices and their own judgment and their own experience as to whether that failure to report was under suspicious circumstances or circumstances where the soldier might be in jeopardy. And so it was a slippage of accountability, routine accountability, combined with no real protocols or procedures in place for the NCOs in the first instance. So we describe it as an ad hoc response. Each response was different. There were no consistent responses.
Chris Swecker: (01:00:35)
They now have, and we have looked at the missing soldier protocol that the Army has put out and it’s a very good one. It starts on hour one. In any missing person case, the first 24 hours is extremely critical. You can’t get started 24 hours into it. You have to start on hour one and hour or two. So that’s where the missing soldier protocol that they’re promulgating now, we think hits the mark.
Speaker 9: (01:01:02)
Thank you. That concludes this briefing. Thank you to the members of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee for their service on behalf of the Army.
Chris Swecker: (01:01:11)
Speaker 10: (01:01:16)
Male on female harassment, or is there other type of-
Speaker 11: (01:01:20)
It should be-
Chris Swecker: (01:01:22)
Mostly male on female.
Speaker 10: (01:01:23)
Mostly male on female. Okay, thank you.