An Army investigation into the command climate of 1st Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery, has found that the Fort Bliss, Texas, unit was suffering from low morale before one of its soldiers disappeared seven months ago.
Fort Bliss commander Maj. Gen. Sean Bernabe ordered the two-month AR 15-6 investigation to gain insight on the unit's leadership and the treatment of its soldiers prior to the July 2020 disappearance of Pvt. Richard Halliday.
Investigators interviewed 52 soldiers from the command and analyzed data from four separate command climate surveys.
The Jan. 22 findings concluded that the high operational tempo of the unit's training and deployment cycle "placed remarkable stress on the soldiers in the unit," according to a Fort Bliss statement released Friday.
After returning home from a deployment to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in August 2019, the unit soon began an intense training cycle to prepare for a December 2020 deployment back to the Middle East, according to the statement. The unit is currently deployed.
"It is my assessment that the battalion is tired," the investigating officer, who is not named, stated in a redacted version of the investigation report, describing how the high operational tempo -- combined with the stress of operating during the COVID-19 pandemic -- slowly wore down the soldiers' morale.
"These conditions drove the soldiers of the battalion to have low morale and feel under-appreciated," the report states.
The investigation, however, found no evidence of toxic leadership or maltreatment of soldiers.
"There was no evidence that the battalion engaged in counterproductive, destructive and/or toxic leadership," according to the report.
AR 600-100 states that counterproductive leadership can take different forms, ranging from incompetence to abusiveness and can include bullying, distorting information, refusing to listen to subordinates and abusing authority, the report states. For counterproductive leadership to become toxic, it must continue over time and affect a unit's performance.
"None of these conditions were demonstrated from any of the sworn statements or evidence collected over the period of this investigation," according to the investigation report.
Halliday was last seen on July 23 before 6 p.m. and was listed as Absent Without Leave, or AWOL, when he didn't show up for duty.
Halliday's mother, Patricia, said she and her husband Rob last talked to their son on July 23. Since his disappearance, Halliday's parents have created a "Find Richard Halliday" Facebook page.
In a 45-minute video posted Jan. 31, Halliday's mother criticizes leaders at Fort Bliss for not calling her on a regular basis.
"Can you imagine first sergeants and captains not wanting to talk about Ricard, their soldier?" Patricia Halliday said in the video. "The first sergeant called once, said he'd call every two weeks. I never heard from him again, but when I called him, he said, 'No.' He was unwilling to talk to me. Why are they afraid of me? I'm not doing anything. I'm not threatening anybody. ... I just want to know where Richard is and what happened to Richard."
Since Halliday's disappearance, Fort Bliss has assigned a legal adviser and a casualty assistance officer to his parents, base spokeswoman Lt. Col. Allie Payne, told Military.com, adding that the Hallidays speak to Bernabe, the base commander, on a regular basis.
Halliday's mother told Military.com that Bernabe briefed them on the investigation, but they are waiting to receive a copy of it.
"The briefing was a mockery," she said, adding that she doubted that "everything was OK" with Halliday's unit.
She questioned the fairness of her son's punishment for an Article 15 he received in April for "patterns of misconduct," which involved underage drinking at age 20 and disobeying orders. She said he was made to perform extra duty in "full-battle rattle" or combat equipment for 45 days.
The investigation found that the unit did not conduct extra duty in "any extreme that was outside the guidance in AR 27-10," which governs military justice.
The unit did require soldiers on extra duty to be equipped with their ballistic helmet, body armor, chemical protective mask and gloves, a uniform that "some have considered to be improper," but the "intent was that the extra duty 'sucked' and was an additional deterrent to help other soldiers choose to not violate regulations," according to the investigation report.
Based on the investigation, Bernabe ordered the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command at Bliss to "reexamine" the operational tempo for "specific units," which were not identified in the redacted report. He also ordered that the leadership of the 1-43rd develop and distribute a "sustainable readiness model" and training plan prior to redeployment from the Middle East, according to the report.
Army Criminal Investigation Command at Bliss is offering a $25,000 reward for credible information on Halliday's disappearance.
In December, the Army created a new classification system for missing soldiers in response to an independent review of Fort Hood, Texas, ordered by senior leaders after the disappearance and murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen. The new policy is designed to create greater urgency to find soldiers when they fail to report for duty.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to remove an incorrect characterization of the investigation.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.