McConville says conditions at Fort Hood are imperfect but improving
By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 12, 2021
AUSTIN, Texas – Soldiers at Fort Hood recommended to Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville on Wednesday that they would benefit from training on how to hold discussions about rooting out extremism in the ranks.
The meeting was part of McConville’s two-day trip to the Texas base to hear feedback from soldiers and leaders on progress to improve the command climate and culture at the base just two months after the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee released its report describing cultural and leadership problems, as well as an environment “permissive” of sexual harassment and assault.
“Not everything is perfect, and they gave me very candid advice or requests of what they want to do for all levels,” McConville said. “Many were insightful on some of the things that we could do to do to make things better.”
He said he felt there was a clear change in attitude on how young enlisted soldiers view Fort Hood since he last visited the base in September.
Former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy appointed the five-member committee to investigate conditions at Fort Hood after Spc. Vanessa Guillen was killed on base in April by a fellow soldier.
The report found leadership failures created a lack of trust among soldiers and many times base leaders lacked a “human touch” when speaking with the families of soldiers.
Much of Fort Hood’s approach to build trust has centered around leaders establishing better relationships with soldiers and their families. Leaders must ensure each soldier has a “Golden Triangle” of support that includes their direct leader, a trusted friend and family. Leaders must contact the other members of the triangle “to humanize” soldiers, McConville said.
Some noncommissioned officers suggested to McConville during his visit that they receive training to prepare them to better discuss racism, sexism and suicide – three corrosive issues that Army senior leaders have targeted in their people-first approach.
“We take for granted that all our NCOs and leaders know how to counsel and interact. In some ways, we need to take some time teaching them how to do that,” McConville said. “In some ways by talking to the mother or spouse, it humanizes that relationship. They can help you and you can help them.”
This echoed concerns that Col. Kevin Bradley, commander of Fort Hood’s 3rd Cavalry Regiment, said he has heard from soldiers in his unit. It’s not just about preparing leaders to hold phone conversations with strangers, it’s also preparing them to talk with soldiers about difficult topics such as racism and sexual assault.
“I think part of that, too, is arming the leaders to be able to talk with confidence on the matters,” Bradley said during an interview prior to McConville’s visit.
For his part, Bradley said he is “constantly reiterating why it’s important and getting people to be comfortable in having these conversations.”
Another soldier suggested to McConville that the Army hire civilians to take over tasks like guard duty and cleaning the barracks to allow soldiers more time to train and focus.
“I’d like to do that, but some are the type of things you expect soldiers to do,” McConville said.
After hearing from soldiers, McConville met with commanders and command sergeants major on base to discuss the soldiers’ feedback and offer his own. Leaders have taken the report “very seriously,” but there is still work to be done, he said.
“We all have some things that we have to aggressively get after in our force that hurt our soldiers and have the potential to break trust with the American people,” McConville said he told leaders.
Within the next 60 days, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced there will be a military-wide stand down to combat some of those issues. McConville said this will be an opportunity to make certain “soldiers understand there’s no place for any type of extremism in our force.”