Leaders Make Big Moves on Soldier Safety, Welfare

Leaders Make Big Moves on Soldier Safety, Welfare

Soldiers talking
Photo by: U.S. Army

The Army is standing up a task force to address a series of recommendations to improve soldiers’ safety, welfare and readiness, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy announced Dec. 8.  

The service also has relieved or suspended 14 commanders and other leaders at Fort Hood, Texas, in extraordinary actions after a three-month review of the command climate and culture at the installation.  

The review and actions result from the April murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old member of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood who went missing April 22. Her remains were found June 30. The soldier suspected in her death killed himself when confronted by law enforcement, and a civilian suspect was arrested.  

“The challenges at Fort Hood forced us to take a critical look at our systems, our policies and ourselves,” McCarthy said. “This is not just about metrics, but about possessing the ability to show compassion for our teammates and to look out for the best interest of our soldiers. This report, without a doubt, will cause the Army to change our culture.”  

An independent review was conducted by a panel of five civilians. Their report found a “deficient” command climate at Fort Hood, including ineffective implementation of the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program that resulted in a pervasive lack of confidence, fear of retaliation and significant underreporting of cases, the Army said in a statement. The report also found that Fort Hood leadership knew or should have known of the high risk of harm to female soldiers, according to the Army. 

“We will fix this,” pledged Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville. “We know in the Army that we’re not perfect, but what makes us the greatest Army in the world is we recognize when we must change.”  

The review at Fort Hood extends beyond one installation, McCarthy said. “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 and more than 1.2 million soldiers,” McCarthy said.   

The People First Task Force will study the recommendations, map out a plan to tackle them, and reevaluate current Army policies and programs, McCarthy said. The goal is to begin implementing changes by March. 

The task force will include members from across the Army and will be led by Lt. Gen. Gary Brito, deputy chief of staff for personnel; Diane Randon, assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence; and Sgt. Maj. Julie Guerra, the G-2 sergeant major.  

The Army also announced a new policy on missing soldiers, with the goal of making sure the service “maximizes efforts to find missing soldiers,” the service said in a statement. The directive clarifies “expectations and responsibilities of unit commanders and Army law enforcement authorities” during the first 48 hours after a soldier fails to report for duty.   

“When one of our teammates does not report for duty, we will change their duty status to ‘absent-unknown’ and take immediate action to find them,” McCarthy said.  

The new “absent-unknown” duty status code will give commanders time to determine an absent soldier’s status. Previously, soldiers who were absent for unknown reasons were listed as “absent without leave.”  

If commanders cannot determine that a soldier’s absence is voluntary, they will be classified as “missing,” and the Army will initiate a “duty status whereabouts unknown” casualty case, providing the soldier’s family with a liaison officer while commanders continue to try to locate the missing soldier.  

The actions announced Dec. 8 are just a start, McCarthy said. “We have a great deal of work ahead of us,” he said.  

The full report is available here.