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8 Dec, 2020 18:30

14 service members suspended or fired over ‘widespread pattern’ of sexual assault, violence and murder at Fort Hood base

14 service members suspended or fired over ‘widespread pattern’ of sexual assault, violence and murder at Fort Hood base

US Army leaders have suspended or fired 14 officers and enlisted service members stationed at Fort Hood, Texas following the conclusion of an independent probe into a climate of violence that led to numerous deaths on base.

The expulsions and suspensions were announced on Tuesday alongside sweeping policy changes ordered by Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy. The changes govern procedures related to sexual assault, reports of missing soldiers, crime prevention, and the general ‘toxic’ climate at the base.

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One new policy will require commanders to list service members as absent-unknown for up to 48 hours and actively search for them to the best of their ability before declaring the missing ‘absent without leave’ (AWOL). The changes follow a civilian investigation opened in July after five soldiers stationed at the base died of suspected foul play within months.

The problems at Fort Hood are “directly related to leadership failures,” McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday, skewering senior staff at the base: “Without leadership, systems don't matter.” Fort Hood has seen a shocking amount of violence over the past year, with 25 soldiers dead of either suicide, homicide, or suspicious ‘accidents’.

The most senior officer fired was Army Maj.Gen. Scott Efflandt, who was supervising Fort Hood when Spc. Vanessa Guillen disappeared and when she was found bludgeoned to death two months later. Efflandt's transfer to another base has been delayed, suggesting he will face further punishment. The leaders of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, including Col. Ralph Overland, have also been fired, as have Maj.Gen. Jeffery Broadwater and Command Sgt.Maj. Thomas Kenney, the leaders of the base's 1st Cavalry Regiment.

The suspensions and firings are expected to lead to further investigations which could see some of those responsible for the deterioration in conditions on the base expelled from the military entirely.

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Guillen's body was found in July, two months after she went missing, leading her suspected killer, Spc. Aaron Robinson, to commit suicide in order to avoid being taken into custody by police. Another soldier, 23-year-old Elder Fernandes, was found dead in August after he'd been missing for over a week. Pvt. Mejhor Morta was found dead near the base in July, while the remains of another missing service member, Gregory Morales, were discovered in June just over 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the base.

Fort Hood commander Army Lt. Gen. Pat White will not be disciplined, as he has spent most of the year deployed to Iraq and was not present during the grisly events of the last 12 months. The problems at the base are not exactly new – 2019 saw another 32 soldiers stationed there die of suicide, murder or accidents, while 24 died in 2018.

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