The secretary of the Army announced Friday that he has ordered an independent review of command climate and culture following the disappearance and alleged murder of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy met Friday with Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, and leaders of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) to hear concerns about Fort Hood's handling of the April 22 disappearance of the 20-year-old 3rd Cavalry Regiment soldier.
Guillen's alleged murder by Army Spc. Aaron Robinson has touched off a wave of controversy, resulting in many public officials calling for separate investigations into the command's handling of the tragedy.
"I had the opportunity to sit down with [LULAC] and Congress to discuss the loss of SPC. Vanessa Guillen," McCarthy tweeted Friday. "I am directing an independent & comprehensive review of the command climate and culture. We have to listen in order to create enduring change."
Fort Hood officials announced Monday that they had identified human remains discovered in Bell County as Guillen's.
Robinson allegedly told 22-year-old Cecily Aguilar that he killed Guillen "by striking her in the head with a hammer" while on base April 22, then smuggled her body to a remote site in Bell County, according to a July 2 criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Texas.
Aguilar, a civilian and the estranged wife of a former Fort Hood soldier, allegedly then helped Robinson mutilate and dispose of Guillen's body, according to the complaint. Federal authorities charged Aguilar with conspiracy to tamper with evidence in Guillen's disappearance, according to the complaint.
Police attempted to apprehend Robinson on June 30, but he produced a firearm and took his own life, Army investigators have said.
LULAC officials demanded that a separate, independent agency outside of the military protocol be established to investigate reports of rapes, assaults and sexual harassment, which "some of our soldiers are being subjected to and, all too often, their claims are ignored," according to a recent news release.
"We also know, as we hear from soldiers impacted, that there is a credible fear of reporting due to retaliation and that the majority of cases are not reported. Further, we want women to head these investigations to ensure that the message is loud and clear to every female soldier: WE WILL HEAR YOU, AND WE WILL TAKE ACTION."
Natalie Khawam, an attorney representing Guillen's family, has alleged that Robinson sexually harassed Guillen before he murdered her. Fort Hood and Army Criminal Investigation Command officials maintain that there is no credible evidence that Guillen was the victim of sexual harassment.
Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, deputy commander of III Corps and Fort Hood, in late June requested that Army Forces Command send a seven-member inspector general team to the base to determine whether its Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program, or SHARP, is working effectively and properly offering support to soldiers.
Several lawmakers have also called for investigations into the handling of the Guillen case.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, recently signed a letter calling on Pentagon Acting Inspector General Sean O'Donnell to conduct a "a full investigation of the circumstances surrounding SPC Guillen's disappearance."
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, recently requested the Government Accountability Office to conduct an immediate review of the Army's implementation of SHARP.
Garcia, the Texas lawmaker, has also announced her intention to get involved in the case.
"Vanessa was a 20-year Latina soldier with a bright future ahead of her," she wrote in a July 5 statement. "Sadly, that bright future was cut short while she was serving our country. I will continue to work with the family until they get justice for Vanessa, and we guarantee this never again happens to another soldier."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.