Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy led an independent “comprehensive review” of the command’s culture and climate following the murder of Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillén.
McCarthy made the announcement Friday after meeting at the Pentagon with members of Congress and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), who were demanding a full independent investigation into the death of Guillén, who was missing for more than two months earlier. His remains were discovered in late June, about 26 miles east of the Texas Army base.
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“I lead an independent and comprehensive review of the command’s climate and culture,” McCarthy tweeted along with a photo of the meeting participants. “We have to listen to create lasting change.”
Investigators said Guillén was beaten to death at Fort Hood by a fellow soldier. It was last seen in April and was listed as missing for six weeks before the Army released details. The soldier suspected in the murder of Guillén, Spc. Aaron Robinson died of suicide on July 1 when the police were trying to arrest him.
Representative Sylvia Garcia, a Democrat from Texas, and LULAC members held a press conference after the Pentagon meeting and announced that the Department of Defense agreed to an investigation by the Inspector General, as well as a review by an independent panel of culture and the processes at Fort Capucha on how they handle reports of sexual harassment.
García, who was the congresswoman for Guillén, described the Army’s actions as “a great step in the right direction.”
Before Guillén, 20, died, she confided to her family that she had been sexually harassed, but feared reporting it to her superiors for fear of retaliation. Since his case stood out nationally, many other service members have shared heartbreaking stories of sexual harassment, abuse, and rape in the military under the hashtag #IamVanessaGuillen.
LULAC had previously called for a third-party investigation and urged women, especially Latinas, not to join the military until there are guarantees that they will be protected and cared for when they serve the country.
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Guillén’s family has asked Congress to pass a #IAMVANESSAGUILLEN bill that would create a third party where the military could report assault and sexual harassment.
In a statement after the meeting, the Army said it must step up efforts to ensure it represents the diversity of the nation, and McCarthy wants to strengthen the Army’s relationship with LULAC and the Latino community at large. In a press release, the Army said the independent review stemmed from concerns voiced by the family, Congress, and advocacy groups about the “disappearance and murder of the SPC. Vanessa Guillén.”
“I want to express my condolences to the Guillén family,” McCarthy said in a statement, thanking LULAC, Garcia and Representative Gil Cisneros, a Democrat from California. “We are sad and deeply concerned about the loss of one of our specialists. Vanessa Guillén. I would like to thank the League of United Latin American Citizens for meeting with us today and their continued commitment to honor the memory of Specialist Guillén and to help the Army identify and address the challenges facing Hispanic service members. “
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The Army said the independent review panel will determine whether the command’s climate and culture at Fort Hood and the surrounding military community reflect the Army’s values, “including respect, inclusion and workplaces free of sexual harassment.”
The review panel will consist of four civilian consultants and will spend an estimated five to 10 days at Fort Hood investigating claims and historical data on discrimination, harassment and assault. The panel will interview military members and members of the Fort Hood community.
Questions remain about Guillén’s disappearance.
Guillén’s family has said that Robinson, the soldier accused of killing her, sexually harassed Guillén at Fort Hood, but they have not given details of what was said to them.
Guillén was assigned to work in a weapons room at Fort Hood on April 22, when she was last seen walking to a parking lot, according to the Army. On April 23, the US Army Criminal Investigations Division learned of her disappearance and began investigating.
Investigators began interviewing people who had been in contact with Guillén on April 28, according to a schedule provided by the Army. That day, Robinson was identified as a “person of interest” based on information he provided investigators during his interview, army officials said.
The Army was receiving 20 to 30 pieces of advice a day about Guillén’s whereabouts, authorities said, and it took more than a month to obtain the cell phone records requested for the investigation.
The phone records helped lead investigators to Cecily Aguilar, a civilian now charged with a federal charge of conspiracy to tamper with evidence. Investigators believe that she helped Robinson hide Guillén’s body. Aguilar, 22, is currently in custody at the Bell County Jail.
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The Army said a contractor who was not involved in the investigation found human remains on June 30 in the forest near the León river. The remains were later identified as Guillén’s.
Later that day, Robinson, who had been confined to Fort Hood for reasons unrelated to the Guillen investigation, escaped from the barracks unnoticed, according to the Army. After being confronted by police later that night, Robinson died on July 1 after taking his own life.
The Army said the weapon Robinson used was not issued by Fort Hood, but it is not clear where it got it.
Army officials said 52 officers from multiple military and civilian law enforcement agencies have conducted more than 300 interviews investigating Guillén’s murder. That has lasted more than 170 days, and Army officials said that has led to forensic examinations of more than 50 phones.
Fox News’ Caroline McKee, Bradford Betz and Jennifer Griffin contributed to this report as well as to the Associated Press.