New policy moves some Army sexual harassment investigations outside the chain of command

By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 16, 2021

AUSTIN, Texas — A report of sexual harassment from a soldier under Army Forces Command now will be investigated by an officer outside of that soldier’s brigade, according to a new policy from the command.

More so, the Army plans to implement the change service-wide as a way to stabilize its sexual assault and harassment response program while also creating a complete overhaul of the 10-year-old program that was found to be failing soldiers.

“The investigating officer will be from outside of that soldier’s chain of command, so that they are completely separated from what the problem set may be, and it's not something that is embedded inside of the formation where they're kind of policing their own,” said Diane Randon, the Army’s assistant deputy chief of staff for military intelligence and one of three leaders of the People First Task Force.

The Army announced the policy change alongside 20 others made since the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee released a report Dec. 8 about the Texas Army base. The report included 70 recommendations to improve the command climate and culture at Fort Hood and the entire Army. The People First Task Force was created to implement all the recommendations.

Randon, alongside Lt. Gen. Gary M. Brito, the deputy chief of staff for Army personnel, and Sgt. Maj. Julie A.M. Guerra, the deputy chief of staff for personnel sergeant major, lead the task force. They took questions Friday about the five recommendations implemented across the Army and the 16 implemented at Fort Hood, III Corps and Army Forces Command, known as FORSCOM.

The Army created the committee to review Fort Hood’s command climate and culture and the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program last year after the disappearance and death of Spc. Vanessa Guillen. The 20-year-old soldier was killed in an arms room by a fellow soldier nearly one year ago. Her family has said she was sexually harassed on base prior to her death.

The committee found the climate “permissive” of sexual assault and harassment, the criminal investigative unit needed more resources and there was a lack of knowledge and trust in reporting sex crimes. Recommendations from the committee ranged from improving the Army Criminal Investigation Command and crime prevention to rebuilding trust between soldiers and leaders to improving the program designed to respond to sexual assault and harassment so soldiers can trust it.

The Army’s SHARP program, which was created in 2008 and implemented in 2012, will be completely restructured under the task force, said Randon, an Army civilian for 35 years.

“While dismantling the program, there still needs to be … that program in place in some form, because we can’t just completely float in place and not have anything as a backstop,” she said.

Other recommendations implemented to address sexual assault and harassment included III Corps sharing publicly court-martial convictions for sex crimes and requiring its commanders to update sexual assault victims within 72 hours of the sexual assault review board meeting about their case.

III Corps is the highest headquarters based at Fort Hood and oversees the 1st Cavalry Division, which is also located as Fort Hood. III Corps also oversees the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colo., the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas, and the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kan.

However, units and bases outside of this purview are not immune to the problems identified by the Fort Hood review committee. Members of the training staff at Fort Sill, Okla., which falls under Army Training and Doctrine Command, were suspended earlier this month for allegations that they were involved in the sexual assault of a trainee at the base.

That command, known as TRADOC, is conducting an evaluation of how to enforce recommendations of the report at basic training and while training future drill sergeants, said Guerra, a former drill sergeant.

“There is a very important role that the female drill sergeants play, in not just setting the example and being a visual identifier for female soldiers when they come in, but it's also being able to kind of recognize pitfalls or bad behavior before it becomes bad behavior,” Guerra said. “TRADOC is reinforcing that responsibility within the formations to really be able to identify behavior and then also to prevent it before something happens inside of those training installations and the formations.”

It’s not clear yet whether the report has had a ripple effect in recruiting young soldiers, particularly among women and women of color. But Brito said they are committed to showing the Army “is a great, safe place to serve.”

“We are very committed to the soldiers that join the Army. We want to ensure that they enter and are part of a cohesive team trained and ready to execute the mission, and not turning a blind eye on anything that came up in the Fort Hood independent review,” he said. Instead, they are “applying that to the improvement of the culture of the Army.” 

Twitter: @Rose_Lori