About this story
The American-Statesman is in his sophomore year informing you of the death of US Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen. Reporter Heather Osbourne has been reporting on the Guillen case since the soldier’s disappearance in April 2020 and has investigated the toxic culture at Fort Hood, which sparked public outcry and called for reforms from the highest echelons of government.
Triggered by the murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen at Fort Hood last year, the US Army announced last week a year-long pilot program at seven military facilities across the country to provide more resources and support to victims of soldier sex crimes.
As part of the planned redesign of its sexual harassment / assault response and prevention program, the Army plans to establish a “merger directorate” at each post that will have victim advocates, medical teams, investigators and legal departments in one building.
Fort Sill in Oklahoma, Fort Riley in Kansas, Fort Irwin in California, Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Schofield Barracks in Hawaii and Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland will participate in the pilot program. The Army Reserve will operate a virtual merger directorate for the 99th Readiness Division in New Jersey.
Army Col. Erica Cameron, chief of Operation People First and the SHARP Redesign Task Force, said Fort Hood will not be part of the pilot program because so many changes are underway at the post in central Texas.
The SHARP program came under scrutiny last year after Guillen’s family announced the 20-year-old had told them that she had been molested by at least one person in Fort Hood months before she died.
Investigators were called in after the Guillen case last year to look closely at how Fort Hood leaders are running the facility. she found that the SHARP program was responsible for the mishandling of some cases of sexual misconduct.
Investigators with the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee said earlier this year that the post’s SHARP executives told them during their summer 2020 interviews that 3 out of 4 female soldiers between the ages of 18 and 23 will be sexually assaulted or molested within eight months of being stationed at Fort Hood.
Investigators said it appeared that the SHARP program not only failed to protect soldiers during the summer the investigation began, but also neglected its duties dating back to 2013. Investigators who testified before Congress in March said SHARP was one of several failed systems, which included the US Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID).
SHARP and the Fort Hood Criminal Investigation Department have been found to be run by emergency crews, with most of those in the positions being too inexperienced to handle the complexity of the cases, investigators said.
Now in the SHARP redesign phase, Cameron said the pilot program will make better use of the buildings that were designated for the program if it did not run efficiently.
The pilot program will be very similar to the guidelines already established under SHARP, but will add more staff to allow soldiers to receive help from multiple agencies at the same time, giving more opportunities to speak to advocates outside their chain of command.
“It didn’t look like the Merger Directorate we envision for this pilot,” said Cameron, comparing it to other SHARP buildings that have been erected in the past. “In many of these cases, they did not have direct on-site support elements from CID, Legal, etc.
“They are now expanding to make sure that there is at least a working space for these organizations to support victims. That is one of our requirements for this pilot program.”
At each of the seven pilot sites there will be a director of the merger directorate reporting to the chief installation commander, army leaders said.
“It aims to increase accountability, transparency and efficiency by coordinating all victim response elements,” said Cameron. “Locating these support services together, either physical or virtual, will make it easier for victims to get the help they need and enable them to navigate an emotional and complex process.”
Guillen, 20, from Houston was last seen at Fort Hood on April 22, 2020.
One of the people the Guillen family accused of molesting them was a colleague from Spc. Aaron Robinson. Months after the Robinson family accused the Robinson family, authorities restricted the soldier as a suspect in Guillen’s disappearance. Authorities now believe that Robinson Guillen died on the morning of Jan.
Robinson fatally shot himself on July 1, 2020when authorities tried to question him after they found Guillen’s remains on a nearby river the previous day, Killeen police said. Army officials have never been able to confirm the family’s claims that Robinson molested Guillen.
Army leaders confirmed at the end of April, a year after Guillen’s disappearance that Guillen was sexually harassed and retaliated at Fort Hood, as her family has maintained in Houston during a fight for criminal justice reform in the military. Army leaders say, however, that it was a non-commissioned officer, whom they refused to identify, who sexually molested Guillen.
The public rallied behind the Guillen family after the soldier’s disappearance last year, sparking a viral social media hashtag, #IAmVanessaGuillen, which hundreds of military personnel used to share their own experiences of sexual misconduct in the military.
Many of their stories were similar, often saying that the military did little or nothing to investigate the incidents or prosecute the perpetrators. On many social media posts, soldiers said they never shared their experiences out of fear of retaliation.
The # IAmVanessaGuillen movement eventually turned into the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act, a bill that, when included in the National Defense Authorization Act – an annual law that establishes the country’s defense policy – would allow people outside a soldier’s direct chain of command to investigate sexual abuse cases in the military.
Legislators in support of the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act say current army protocols are flawed and problematic, as investigators are often the ones who are in the direct chain of command of a victim and often have personal relationships with the accused and the victim who reports it . As a result, victims fear retaliation if these investigators do not conduct the investigation without bias.