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The family of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén, the young soldier whose remains were found two months after she disappeared from the Fort Hood military base in Texas in April 2020, is speaking out about a report released last week that resulted in disciplinary action against 21 officers and non-commissioned officers.
Guillén's unit didn’t take appropriate action after she stepped forward to report two incidents of harassment, the report says. A total of eight senior commanders have now been fired as a result of the subsequent probe, which documented a series of issues plaguing the base, including high rates of sexual assault, harassment and drug use. The report also blamed the military for allowing Guillén’s suspected killer, Army Spc. Aaron Robinson, to escape and ultimately kill himself as police closed in on him last summer.
No criminal charges have been brought against any of the Fort Hood soldiers, who were either relieved of command or given career-killing letters of reprimand that will go into their permanent files. After months of denial from Fort Hood, the report, led by Gen. John Murray, finally noted that Guillén was sexually harassed by another higher-ranking soldier; the report, however, did not name the supervisor who harassed her.
"The Army keeps trying to protect this name and I want to understand why," Mayra Guillén said of her sister’s harasser in an interview with ABC News. "Why not just try to take a step forward, admit that you were wrong, fix it and make yourself look better, so the nation could trust you again?"
The Guillén family, who have identified the soldier who harassed her as Sgt. 1st Class Jovanny Rivera, also said in a statement that the case was “severely mishandled.”
‘We are upset that the names of the soldiers that sexually harassed Vanessa are not included. It’s heartbreaking and frustrating for all of us,” they said.
The report also blamed the military for allowing Robinson to escape from custody, finding that “poor communication” between soldiers keeping watch and that it was not clearly noted that Robinson was a soldier of “heightened interest,” which led to his ability to flee from a conference room, the Associated Press reported.
The senior leaders disciplined include Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, who was serving as acting base commander during the time of Guillén’s death; former Deputy Commanding General of III Corps, Col. Ralph Overland; Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Knapp, who is the former commander and command sergeant major of 3rd Cavalry Regiment. Army Lt. Gen. Pat White, who was deployed to Iraq for most of 2020, escaped any discipline, according to the report.
There were at least 28 Fort Hood soldiers who died in 2020, including in multiple homicides, suicides and deaths from other accidents, the AP reported. Sexual harassment at the base also went unaddressed by commanders, as was the case when Guillén came forward.
“They knew of the aggressive and counterproductive leadership but took no action,” the report said of senior leaders, who the report says also failed to publicly address Guillén’s disappearance or correct misinformation about what happened to her.
“This contributed to an inability to inform and educate the public in a timely manner, and maintain transparency with the Guillén family,” the report said.
Authorities have alleged that Cecily Aguilar helped Robinson, her boyfriend, dispose of Guillén’s body after he killed her with a hammer. Both Robinson and Guillén were stationed at Fort Hood. The 22-year-old entered a not guilty plea in court to three counts of conspiracy to tamper with evidence; she was denied bond in July and is awaiting trial in a Texas jail.
Mayra Guillén has joined other activists and members of Congress to advocate for the passage of the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act to improve the Department of Defense responses to sex-related offenses. There were 7,825 sexual assault reports involving service members as victims or subjects — a 3% increase compared to 2018 — according to a Pentagon report.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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