Lawmakers Slam Army CID Chief One Year after Spc. Guillen’s Death
A hearing saw bipartisan disappointment in apparent lack of reform.
Nearly a year ago, U.S. Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen went missing from Fort Hood in Texas. It would be months before her remains were found and her disappearance deemed a homicide. As details came to light, lawmakers demanded changes — and Army leaders promised to make them. On Tuesday, lawmakers called the Army to account — and found it wanting.
During a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, the chief of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command provided what Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., called disappointing updates that revealed a lack of concrete change.
Guillen’s death at the hands of a fellow soldier led to multiple hearings, reviews, and the Army’s Fort Hood Independent Review Committee. In December, the FHIRC released nine overarching recommendations, mainly focused on improvements to the Army’s sexual harassment and assault prevention programs and its CID. Those recommendations were accepted by Army leaders, who led the FHIRC to believe the service would make the changes.
Months later, few have been made.
“I’m truly disappointed that that is the extent of what you have gleaned from the report,” Speier told Maj. Gen. Donna Martin, commanding general of Army CID, at the hearing.
Martin could not say how Army CID has improved its personnel structure. The FHIRC determined in December that 90 percent of the agents at Fort Hood’s CID office were “apprentice” agents with less than two years of experience. This lack of experience helped cause the mishandling of Guillen’s case and those of several other Fort Hood soldiers.
Martin did say Army CID is working to repair relationships with local law enforcement and ensure everyone “feels safe.”
“That all sounds good, but those are things I hope we would be doing anyway. I’m not hearing about a specific effort at Fort Hood to repair damaged relationships” responded Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind.
Guillen’s case was far from the only death at Fort Hood last year. Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., joined the HASC hearing as a representative of the family of Sgt. Elder Fernandes. Fernandes went missing Aug.19 of last year, weeks after he reported an incident of sexual harassment invovling his superiors. On Aug. 25 his body was found, and it was reportedly determined he had died by suicide.
The Fernandes family has yet to receive a report from Army CID on their son’s death. Lynch pointedly asked Martin where that report was. Martin responded that the family had never requested the report.
“Let’s set aside the fact that we did ask for the information — and that’s on the record, in writing,” Lynch said. “To suggest that the Army didn’t know the family wanted to know details of their son’s disappearance and death? Really?”
The Army took promising steps early last year in an effort to improve Fort Hood such as dismissing or suspending 14 base leaders and accepting all nine of the FHIRC’s recommendations. But efforts since have faltered and lacked the “robust” focus Congress believes Fort Hood requires.
Speier sent Martin home with a task list.
“What I would like for you to do is provide separately a breakdown of what steps you have taken to respond to the report’s requests,” the lawmaker told the general after she failed to provide answers to a string of Speier’s questions.