As investigations conclude at Fort Hood, commander stands ready to implement changes after a year overseas
By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 23, 2020
FORT HOOD, Texas — Lt. Gen. Pat White uncased the III Corps flag at Fort Hood on Friday to mark his return from deployment and to his role as commander of the base, just one week before an independent committee is set to file their report on the command climate and culture of the central Texas Army base.
“I can imagine that the way this would all occur is the secretary of the Army would receive all the information on all these investigations,” White said Friday. “He will determine what at his level he wants to take on and then it will begin the process of moving down through the chain of command.”
During the year that White spent overseas leading the multination fight against the Islamic State, Fort Hood suffered a series of tragedies that gained national attention and called into question the safety of the 36,500 soldiers stationed there.
In April, Spc. Vanessa Guillen was killed by a fellow soldier in an arms room on base. It took investigators three months to find her body buried along a river miles from the base. Guillen’s family said the soldier experienced sexual harassment at the base, but feared she would face reprisal if she reported it.
In August, the base began searching for another missing soldier, Sgt. Elder Fernandes. After a week searching, he was found dead in Temple of an apparent suicide. His family has said Fernandes was sexually harassed and bullied by fellow soldiers.
Guillen and Fernandes are two of 28 soldiers who have died at Fort Hood this year. Including Guillen, five of those soldiers died by homicide, more than double than in the previous four years. Six soldiers died by suicide and another six deaths have not been classified.
Following Guillen’s death, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy noted the base has the most violent felonies of any Army formation and ordered an independent review committee to investigate the root causes. Made up of five civilians, they are tasked with reporting whether the command climate and culture of Fort Hood reflects the Army’s commitment to safety, respect, inclusiveness, diversity and freedom from sexual harassment. That report is due Oct. 30.
Once White has the report, he said he will act on any recommendations that pertain to Fort Hood.
“If it has something to do with Fort Hood, I will come up with an action plan and it will be reportable back up through the chain of command,” White said. “In Vanessa’s family’s case, we’re going talk to them about what I’m doing to help out here. I believe, and I will meet them soon, that they care about our Army and they care about what happened and they don’t want to see it happen again.”
Aside from the independent committee, Army Forces Command appointed Gen. John Murray, commander of Army Futures Command, to investigate all aspects of the Guillen case and all decisions made by commanders at every level. Murray has completed that investigation and will meet with the Guillen family next week, White said. After they meet, he will schedule to meet the Guillens, who live in Houston.
“I have to meet with them. I was gone. I need to be back involved,” White said.
Congress also initiated a joint investigation from subpanels of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. They are investigating the policies and practices at Fort Hood with a focus on seven soldiers who died this year.
White said he plans to review how each of the 28 soldiers who died at Fort Hood were honored to ensure it was done appropriately.
“In most cases, they’ve been honored along the way,” he said. “What I don’t want is that as we move forward and we’ve forgotten or left somebody behind.”
Lt. Gen. Pat White, commander of III Corps and Fort Hood, recently returned from a deployment to the Middle East and he said he plans to meet with the family of slain Fort Hood soldier Spc. Vanessa Guillen to discuss how he plans to implement changes recommended for the base through investigations set to conclude this month.
ROSE L. THAYER/STARS AND STRIPES