WASHINGTON (AP/CBS) — The Army on Tuesday said it had fired or suspended 14 officers and enlisted soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, and ordered policy changes to address chronic leadership failures at the base that contributed to a widespread pattern of violence including murder, sexual assaults and harassment.
Two general officers were among those being removed from their jobs, as top Army leaders announced the findings of an independent panel’s investigation into problems at the Texas base.READ MORE: Watch Live @ 8:30 am: Baker Visits Newburyport School's Pool COVID-19 Testing Program
The actions, taken by Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, come in the aftermath of a year that saw 25 soldiers assigned to Fort Hood die due to suicide, homicide or accidents, including the bludgeoning death of Spc. Vanessa Guillen. Guillen was missing for about two months before her remains were found.
Another among those who died in recent months was Army Sgt. Elder Fernandes of Brockton, whose death was ruled a suicide. His family said he had earlier reported being sexually assaulted by a superior on base.
“I’m glad they decided to listen, but I know it’s not going to bring my son back,” said mother Ailina Fernandes.
She doesn’t believe her son’s death was a suicide.
Ailina said leaders at the base ignored her calls for help. “I had to go search for my son myself because they didn’t believe that he was missing.”
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, McCarthy said that based on the panel’s review, he concluded that the issues at Fort Hood, including major flaws in the reporting and response to sexual assault and harassment, “are directly related to leadership failures.” He said he was gravely disappointed in the commanders there, adding, “without leadership, systems don’t matter.”
Gen. James McConville, the chief of staff of the Army, told reporters that he spoke to Guillen’s mother on Tuesday morning and told her, “We are holding leaders accountable, and we will fix this.”READ MORE: 582 At Massachusetts Schools Test Positive For COVID-19 In Last 2 Weeks
The firings and suspensions include Army Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, who was left in charge of the base earlier this year when Guillen was killed, as well as Maj. Gen. Jeffery Broadwater, commander of the 1st Cavalry Divisions. The administrative actions are expected to trigger investigations that could lead to a wide range of punishments. Those punishments could go from a simple letter of reprimand to a military discharge.
The base commander, Army Lt. Gen. Pat White, will not face any administrative action. He was deployed to Iraq as the commander there for much of the year.
McCarthy also ordered a new Army policy that changes how commanders deal with missing soldiers, requiring them to list service members as absent-unknown for up to 48 hours and to do everything they can to locate the service members to determine if their absence is voluntary or not before declaring anyone AWOL, or absent without leave.
Army leaders had already delayed Efflandt’s planned transfer to Fort Bliss, where he was slated to take over leadership of the 1st Armored Division. Command of a division is a key step in an Army officer’s career.
Efflandt’s move to the division was paused while the team of independent investigators conducted its probe into whether leadership failures contributed to the killings of several people, including Guillen, and who should be held accountable.
According to investigators, Guillen, 20, was bludgeoned to death at Fort Hood by Spc. Aaron Robinson, who killed himself on July 1 as police were trying to take him into custody. Her family has said Robinson sexually harassed her, though the Army has said there is no evidence supporting that claim.
Also in July, the body of Pvt. Mejhor Morta was found near a reservoir by the base. And in June, officials discovered the remains of another missing soldier, Gregory Morales, about 10 miles from that lake.MORE NEWS: Friday Marks First Anniversary Of Boston Biogen Conference Super Spreader Event
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)