By CARTER F. HAM: For Complete Post, Click Here…
“The murder of Specialist Vanessa Guillen shocked our conscience and brought attention to deeper problems.” So began Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy’s public statement on Dec. 8 as he, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville, and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston addressed the Report of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee. While senior Army leaders, including McCarthy, had previously talked about how Guillen’s murder affected them personally and professionally, the report identified failings far deeper than many had foreseen.
I’m an old soldier, one who had the privilege of serving for nearly 38 years, and in some fairly senior positions. A few years ago, I had the honor of chairing the congressionally directed National Commission on the Future of the Army, and I am now the president of the Association of the United States Army, a nonprofit organization that supports soldiers, their families, Army civilians, veterans, retirees, and the businesses that support the Army.
I love the Army, and I think I know it pretty well. Like every soldier I know, past and present, I was disappointed, dismayed, and angry at the failings revealed by the committee. But there was another emotion as well: regret.
As I listened to senior Army leaders and the five members of the committee, then read, reread, and studied the report, I realized that many of the identified failures were failures that I made when I was in uniform. To put it bluntly, as a senior commander, I should have placed increased command-level attention and emphasis on sexual assault prevention and response, more proactively ensured that leaders at every level exercised their rightful responsibilities in instilling the Army’s values, and taken more steps to properly staff and resource sexual harassment/assault response and prevention offices, legal staffs, and investigative staffs. The result, of which I am quite certain, is that soldiers for whom I was responsible did not always receive the protections they deserved, and those who violated the Army’s values, abused their positions, and likely committed crimes against their fellow soldiers were not held fully to account. I suspect that I am not alone in feeling this way.
So, now what? While the Fort Hood report is specific to that installation and addresses a certain timeframe, the findings and recommendations speak to Army-wide problems and have far wider applications. As he mentioned in the initial rollout of the report, McConville has shouldered responsibility for this and charged leaders across the Army to accept the duty to fix the problems identified by the committee. Grinston has similarly made it clear to NCO leaders that they have critical roles in moving the Army forward quickly in addressing many of the identified fundamental leadership failures. The Army also established the People First Task Force, to be led by senior military and civilian officials and supported by a highly experienced, diverse team from both within and outside of the Army. These are necessary first steps to acknowledge and accept that these are deep and underlying problems that require more than superficial actions to remedy.
“But wait,” you say. “We’ve heard this before.” That’s true. I’m one of those who said, “We’ve got this.” But we didn’t. I didn’t. At least not to the extent that our soldiers deserve.