FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) – U.S. Army officials on Thursday unveiled a new resource and training center at Fort Hood that aims to instill a supportive culture following reports of murder, suicide and sexual assault at the disputed Texas military facility create.
The People First Center will provide resources and support to soldiers who have been sexually assaulted or who have had suicidal thoughts, and will seek to prevent such problems by training Fort Hood leaders how to properly respond, Army officials said during one Guided tour of the facility. The center will be fully operational in 2022.
Lt. Gen. Gary Brito, the Army’s assistant chief of staff who attended the tour, said he hoped the changes made at Fort Hood and elsewhere would “provide a very warm, comfortable environment that will cater to all soldiers and victims in” a coordinated location with experts who can also help in other areas. “
The center is expected to provide training and resources to prevent sexual harassment and assault, and to respond to allegations. Training and support services are also provided on equal opportunities, suicide prevention, substance abuse and spirituality.
An independent review of Fort Hood – sparked by the deaths of more than two dozen soldiers at the base in 2020 – found that military leaders were improperly handling the high rates of sexual assault and harassment, drug use, and other problems. It also concluded that the Army Criminal Police Department was understaffed, overwhelmed, and staffed with inexperienced investigators, and that female soldiers feared retaliation and compromised confidentiality when filing complaints.
In April, US Army officials disciplined 21 officers and non-commissioned officers, including the dismissal of eight high-ranking commanders in connection with the assassination of Spc. Vanessa Guillén, who was killed in Fort Hood in April 2020. According to Guillen’s family, she had been harassed in the months before her death.
Fort Hood officials said Thursday that some additional recommendations had been introduced for the base while others remained to be implemented but did not provide details of programs to address soldiers’ concerns about handling reports of sexual assault and harassment in the country Texas clear out base.
Brito said the People First Task Force is working to change these systems across the Army based on data collected from pilot programs at other bases to report sexual assault and harassment. He is one of the chairmen of the board.
“I know that over time, if you do this right, something good will come of it, the intellectual energies behind it and, most importantly, the passion of the leadership behind it,” said Brito. The task force helped implement dozens of recommendations from the independent review.
The People First Task Force has also set up pilot programs at six other Army facilities that aim to improve services for soldiers who report sexual harassment or assault.
Colonel Kelly Webster, deputy director of the People First Task Force, told reporters on Wednesday that the program would allow soldiers to report abuses outside their chain of command while providing resources such as victim advocates, chaplains, health workers and more.
Permission to leave the chain of command was a frequent request; Soldiers have said their reports are sometimes ignored or belittled by the unit’s commanders, who often know the victim and the alleged attacker. Kelly said the program would also reduce the possibility for a commander to retaliate against a soldier who reports an attack.
Col. Erica Cameron, who leads efforts to revise the Sexual Assault Response Program, said that while Fort Hood was a catalyst for the latest studies and changes, it was not included in the initiative due to changes being made on that base Were in progress.
The six locations are: Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland; Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; Fort Bragg, NC; Fort Irwin, California; Fort Riley, Kansas; and Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The Army Reserve will set up a virtual center for the 99th Readiness Division, based at the McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Joint Base in New Jersey.
The pilot program is scheduled to start early next year.
Baldor reported from Washington. Coronado is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a not-for-profit national utility that places journalists on local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.