Fort Hood: Regaining trust after string of homicides, assaults and suicides

HOUSTON – The slaying of Houston-native and Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen sparked international outrage. Her case also prompted a series of investigations into how Fort Hood’s leadership cares for our soldiers on the homefront.

KPRC 2 Investigates is looking into how Army leaders are trying to regain trust following a string of suicides, homicides and assaults.

“We’re not going to stop until justice is served,” Guillen’s friend, Ashley Mancias, said at a rally in Montrose in October.

Guillen’s name became a rallying cry.

“We want to know the truth," said Lupe Guillen, the soldier’s younger sister. "We want answers. We want accountability.”

Vanessa Guillen’s death is forcing the Army to change how it treats soldiers.

A new acting senior commander was appointed to Fort Hood and KPRC 2 investigator Robert Arnold conducted an exclusive sit-down interview with Maj. Gen. John Richardson.

‘I think we made some assumptions’

“I think we made some assumptions that we were taking care of people better than we really were,” said Richardson.

Not only is Richardson the new acting senior commander of Fort Hood, but he’s also the deputy commanding general of operations for III Corps.

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“What are you hearing are the major issues facing this post as you assume this position?” Arnold asked.

“We’ve had a lot of outside eyes come in and help us see ourselves and they have uncovered some blind spots for us,” Richardson said.

Richardson said one of the biggest blind spots is a lack of trust between the soldiers and their leaders.

“Our soldiers are watching everything that we do," Richardson said. "They may not be saying anything, but they’re watching. Every time they see a leader not enforce a standard, they’re noting that.”

Multiple investigations are underway into exactly why Fort Hood experienced 129 felonies a year over five years. The crimes included homicide, sexual assault and robbery.

KPRC 2 Investigates
KPRC 2 Investigates

“The numbers are high here," said Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, on Aug. 6, when he visited Fort Hood. “They are the highest, the most cases for sexual assault and harassment, murders for our entire formation of the US Army.”

“So as a leader that hurts, it hurts a lot,” Richardson told Arnold.

Richardson said 20 years of war caused an imbalance in the Army.

‘We didn’t invest the time that we should have into our people’

“We were so focused on training that we didn’t invest the time that we should have into our people,” Richardson said.

To understand the importance of that statement, it is instilled in JRTOC cadets in high school.

The Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps is a federal program sponsored by the United States Armed Forces in high schools and some middle schools across the United States.

“We actually have 11 principles of leadership that the Army made in 1947 and one of them is know your people and look out for their well-being,” said Ian Russell, a JROTC cadet in League City.

Russell has been preparing for a life in the Army since middle school.

“I really want to be able to say I served, I did my part,” Russell said.

And Russell’s mother, like thousands of other families, is both proud and worried.

“I think I’ll be worried, probably every day," Kay Russell said. "I want him to do what’s going to make him happy.”

“What are you doing to allay fears for parents?” Arnold asked Richardson.

“I think the real issue is we’re attacking the trust deficit,” Richardson said.

At the end of September, Richardson shut down the corps at Fort Hood for five days. He ordered his leaders to get to know their soldiers beyond the uniform. He also ordered his officers to make contact with the families of every soldier under their command. He’s also met with Vanessa Guillen’s family to get their input on how the post should memorialize her.

“We have an obligation to know and take care of our soldiers,” Richardson said. “The requirement for our leaders is to not just know our soldiers, but know their families.”

“When I heard that, I was really glad because I don’t see how you can do what they’re doing and not get to know them,” Kay Russell said.

Vanessa Guillen’s family was happy to hear about the changes too, but it’s not enough. Four-star Gen. John Murray, who is in charge of investigating Vanessa Guillen’s chain-of-command, recently visited the family’s home.

“It saddens me that they just came to our household to give us the same report as always, ‘We’re still continuing the investigation,’" Lupe Guillen said. “Well, where’s the answers? You’ve had six months already.”

We also asked Murray about restoring trust.

“How do you regain that trust when many of the leaders are still on post?” Arnold asked.

‘Eventually, leaders will change’

“Number one, identifying who we are talking about, and that’s part of the effort, and eventually, leaders will change,” Murray said.

For the Guillen family, these changes are long overdue.

“How many more have to die for Fort Hood to be held accountable?” said Lupe Guillen. “I trust on his word -- that he’s going to make the change and that he’s going to protect the soldiers."

They say it’s only a start. They want a full account of what happened to Vanessa Guillen and those in her chain of command who failed to protect her held accountable.

“Justice involves answers," Lupe Guillen said. "Knowing what exactly happened to Vanessa.”

Another change the Army is making involves missing soldiers. Within the first hour a soldier is reported missing, leaders are to visit their home or barracks, check social media accounts and talk with friends. By the second hour, leaders are required to contact family, as well as notify local law enforcement and check hospitals.

It is only after a soldier is found and does not voluntarily return to their unit that they are considered absent without leave or AWOL.

About the Authors:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”

Award-winning broadcast journalist covering local, regional, national and international stories. Recognized in the industry for subject matter expertise including: Legal/Court Research, the Space Industry, Education, Environmental Issues, Underserved Populations and Data Visualization.