Anonymous sergeants detail ‘toxic leadership culture’ at Fort Hood
Fort Hood’s top commander has issued an unusual appeal for information following a bombshell report where seven anonymous sergeants described the ‘toxic’ and ‘dangerous’ climate at the base where they saw soldiers attempt suicide, rampant drug abuse, frequent cases of sexual assault, and negligence among high-ranking officials.
The non-commissioned officers (NCOs) – five sergeants and two staff sergeants – described to The Intercept the ‘toxic leadership and culture’ at the embattled Killeen, Texas base, where Vanessa Guillen was killed in April.
In the shocking report the NCOs said ‘people get raped here all the time’, and claimed victims often face retaliation if they report it.
Drug use is widespread and there used to be a meth lab at the base, while the chain of command can be cruel and in one case officials made fun of a solider who attempted suicide, the sergeants said.
On Sunday Lt. Gen. Robert ‘Pat’ White, the Commanding General of the Base, asked for those interviewed to reach out to him to hold those leaders ‘accountable’.
‘Last night I read this Intercept article with great concern. Seven anonymous NCOs describe events and attitudes that I’d like to know more about in order to fix it,’ he said.
On Sunday Lt. Gen. Robert ‘Pat’ White, the Commanding General of the Base, issued an unusual appeal for information following a bombshell report where seven anonymous sergeants described the ‘toxic’ and ‘dangerous’ climate at Fort Hood where they saw soldiers attempt suicide, rampant drug abuse, and cases of unpunished sexual assault
‘The allegations in the article are serious and I firmly believe in the chain of command; since these NCOs feel their immediate leaders have failed them, I ask that these sergeants—and anyone else—use their personal courage and call me,’ Lt. Gen. Robert ‘Pat’ White said
This year alone there have been 28 deaths at Fort Hood base in Killeen, Texas including five homicides and eight suicides
‘The allegations in the article are serious and I firmly believe in the chain of command; since these NCOs feel their immediate leaders have failed them, I ask that these sergeants—and anyone else—use their personal courage and call me,’ he added.
He said that leaders must hold leaders accountable in order to be a part of the solution to change the base.
White returned to Fort Hood on Friday following his deployment. As he spent a year overseas leading the fight against the Islamic State, Fort Hood suffered a slew of devastating tragedies that sparked national concern into the base and the safety of its soldiers.
This year alone there have been 28 deaths at Fort Hood including five homicides and eight suicides.
One of those includes the murder of 20-year-old Vanessa Guillen who was killed by a fellow soldier after telling her family she was being sexually harassed at the base.
Over the last five years, more soldiers stationed at Fort Hood have been murdered on and off the base than killed in battle.
‘I would be scared to send my kid to Fort Hood. I don’t think the leadership here at Fort Hood is doing a good job, or any sort of job, to protect their soldiers,’ a sergeant who has served in the Army for nearly a decade said to The Intercept.
‘The public needs to know what’s going on here. Because I have no more faith in the federal system or the Army,’ one of the sergeants said.
The NCOs who are speaking out saying that there’s an entrenched culture where the chain of command is ‘openly hostile’ towards enlisted soldiers.
Superiors are said to punish or ignore those who report harassment.
‘I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “F*** the Joe” here,’ a longtime sergeant said, using military slang for a private.
‘It’s a common phrase in the platoon office with all the sergeants. The privates are scared to come out and be like, “Hey, this is what’s wrong,” because they know that if they do, nothing’s going to be addressed,’ the sergeant said.
‘Nothing’s going to change because nobody in leadership cares.’
Fort Hood fell under scrutiny for the handling of Guillen’s case. She had disappeared in April and her remains weren’t found until June 30. Guillen’s heartbroken family say that the base mishandled the probe into her disappearance and said they found no proof that she was sexually harassed prior to her murder.
The NCO’s said that Fort Hood has a reputation in the Army as a place where problematic leaders from other installations are sent and ‘careers go to die’.
‘I came here with the mentality of “I’m going to be the change. I’m going to be the fix,”’ the longtime sergeant. They had been transferred to Fort Hood after serving overseas.
‘But within the first week, I was warned by another sergeant, “You can try as hard as you want, but you’re not going to change what is going on here.” And then he just walked away, and I was really taken aback by that,’ the sergeant said.
High-ranking officers who were caught using drugs or engaging in sexual harassment or assault were often reassigned to other positions, rather than being punished, according to the NCOs.
That impunity contributed to a climate of fear and a lack of trust on the base.
Solders who file grievances or seek help are labeled ‘crazy or weak’.
Drug use is reportedly rampant at the base.
‘There’s a lot of drugs in the barracks: marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine. There was even a meth lab for a while, until they were finally caught. In the climate here, it’s treated as no big deal,’ one sergeant said.
Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s mother Gloria Guillen, left, tears up as she meets with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House on July 30 to discuss the I Am Vanessa Guillen bill to reform how military addresses sexual misconduct
Today Fort Hood has 36,500 active service members on its 214,000-acre installation.
Timeline of Fort Hood disappearances/deaths
February 1, 2020: PVT Eric Christopher Hogan and PFC Anthony Nevelle Peak Jr. die in a car crash
March 1, 2020: SPC Shelby Tyler Jones is shot dead at a convenience store in Killeen
March 5, 2020: Spc. Christopher Wayne Sawyer found dead at his home. Foul play is not suspected.
March 14, 2020: SPC Freddy Beningo Delacruz Jr. is killed in a triple murder
March 23, 2020: Fort Hood soldier Spc. Jovino Jamel Roy, 22, was charged with murder after allegedly shooting former Fort Hood soldier Michael Steven Wardrobe, 22
April 22, 2020: Vanessa Guillen goes missing and is last seen in the parking lot of the base. She disappeared after telling her family she was being sexually harassed by a sergeant on the base.
May 18, 2020: Body of Army Pfc. Brandon S. Rosecrans, 27, was discovered with gunshot wounds and his Jeep was found three miles away engulfed in flames.
June 19, 2020: Search teams discover the corpse of missing soldier Pvt. Gregory Wedel-Morales following a tip to Army base investigators. Remains were found in a field in Killeen, just over 10 miles from Stillhouse Hollow Lake, five miles from Fort Hood.
July 1, 2020: First parts of Giullen’s remains found about 20 miles east of Fort Hood.
Spc. Aaron Robinson, 20, kills himself. Officials say he killed and dismembered Guillén and had the remains disposed of.
July 2, 2020: Army Specialist Miguel Yazzie, 33, died on July 2; Yazzie, of Window Rock, Arizona, was hospitalized for a medical condition the day before he died.
July 17, 2020: Pvt. Mejhor Morta, 26, of Pensacola, Florida was found dead July 17 in the vicinity of Stillhouse Hollow Lake, around 15 miles from the Fort Hood base.
August 2, 2020: The body of Spc. Francisco Gilberto Hernandezvargas, 24, is recovered from Stillhouse Hollow Lake following boating incident not far from where Morta was found.
August 12, 2020: Spc. Cole Jakob Aton, 22, of Kentucky died after he was hit by a car as he was assisting a minor accident scene
August 13, 2020: National Guard soldier, Sgt Bradley Moore dies during a training exercise at the base
August 19, 2020: Sgt. Elder Fernandes, 23, is reported missing after he was last seen on August 17.
August 25, 2020: The body of Fernandes is believed to have been found about 30 miles from Fort Hood
August 28, 2020: Pvt. Corlton L. Chee, 25, collapsed during fitness training at Fort Hood on August 28. He died two days later.
The base has reported 163 deaths since 2016, 73 of which have been ruled a suicide, according to Fort Hood public affairs office.
That rate is the highest number of suicides of any Army base with a comparable or larger population.
The NCOs link the staggering number of suicides is due to bullying and harassment on the base and the neglect soldiers feel when they are in crisis.
‘We get these kids who don’t know anything about anything, and then they have all these crazy adult issues,’ one of the sergeants said.
‘But most who are promoted don’t care enough to help them,’ he added.
The Army provides mental health treatment at Embedded Behavioral Health clinics, but the NCOs say soldiers are often discouraged from using those services by leaders, because it could reflect badly on their records to have so many soldiers seek medical help.
Three of the NCOs said they witnessed young soldiers flung into crisis when they were ignored by their commanding officers, leading them to later attempt suicide.
One sergeant said he had to physically restrain a soldier, who was having martial problems, from harming himself with a knife.
‘There were signs that something was going to eventually come to a head with this soldier,’ the sergeant said.
‘He just flipped. I had to wrestle a knife out of his hand, and I was just very lucky that I didn’t get cut,’ he added.
Another sergeant said he received a call from a 17-year-old soldier who was in crisis. The teen said he couldn’t talk to his team leader ‘Because basically they don’t give a f***.’
When the sergeant confronted the platoon sergeant, he responded: ‘I deal with my own problems. He can deal with his.’
‘This is a grown man talking about a 17-year-old. He ended up trying to swallow three bottles of pills and nearly killing himself,’ the sergeant recalled angrily.
In another incident a sergeant said a young soldier was ignored by his chain of command after becoming suicidal and overdosed on pills, but survived the suicide attempt.
Afterwards his superiors joked about how he should have tried harder to kill himself in a group chat.
A screenshot of that exchange was sent to the soldier.
‘Now none of those soldiers have any trust in anybody that’s over them,’ the sergeant said.
A complaint was fired with the Army’s Office of the Inspector General about this case, but the sergeant said ‘we never saw an investigation.’
Sexual harassment and assault is another issue on the base, as the NCOs say its tolerated and victims often face retaliation if they report it.
‘People get raped all the time here. They don’t do anything about it,’ a female sergeant stationed at the base said.
‘They just make you feel like sh**, like you are the problem, like females shouldn’t be here,’ she added.
The sergeant said a sergeant major drugged and raped her off the base and she didn’t report it because she doubted it would be taken seriously.
The latest death at Fort Hood: Pvt. Corlton L. Chee , pictured, collapsed during training on August 28 and died two days later
‘It’s scary reporting those kinds of things, because it’s usually the woman who gets demoted and gets in trouble. You just get blamed,’ she said.
In June an Army review team found that more than one-third of female soldiers at the base experienced sexual harassment there.
One of the staff sergeants said a soldier in his platoon was charged with seven counts of rape or sexual assault while at the base. One alleged victim was a service member and two were civilians.
He had been held in a civilian jail for several months, was acquitted of charges in a military trial and is now back at the base
Part of the problem is that soldiers who attain a rank above staff sergeant are basically ‘untouchable’ in the Army.
‘Once you hit a certain rank, everything just gets kicked under the rug,’ one of the staff sergeants said.
‘And unfortunately, these toxic leaders, they just get passed around on this installation, and they just taint another unit.’
Fort Hood fell under scrutiny for the handling of Guillen’s case. She had disappeared in April and her remains weren’t found until June 30.
Guillen’s heartbroken family say that the base mishandled the probe into her disappearance and said they found no proof that she was sexually harassed prior to her murder.
Guillen was labeled as AWOL, or absent without leave, even though her disappearance was suspicious and it took several weeks for the base to take her disappearance seriously.
‘What’s even crazier is that in the search for Vanessa Guillen, they found another soldier in a shallow grave,’ one sergeant said.
The body of Pvt Gregory Morales, 24, who had went missing from the base days away from being honorably discharged in August 2019. He had been listed as a deserter and his death is now being investigated as a possible homicide.
Since January, according to Fort Hood’s public affairs office, 95 soldiers have gone AWOL from the base, 25 of whom never returned and were listed as deserters.
Today there are several probes investigating the base.
Maj. Gen Scott Efflandt, the base commander at Fort Hood, was removed and reassigned as deputy commanding general for support at the base in the summer
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy admitted the Army failed Guillen and her family during an August press briefing at the base.
He said the base has ‘the most cases for sexual assault and harassment and murders for our entire formation of the U.S. Army.’
He said an independent review will be conducted by five civilian consultants, who are four veterans and a former FBI agent, into Fort Hood.
Three weeks after that press conference Maj. Gen Scott Efflandt, the base commander at Fort Hood, was removed and reassigned as deputy commanding general for support at the base.
Army Futures Command Gen. John Murray also announced an in-depth investigation into the conduct of the chain of command in Guillen’s disappearance will take place, and is scheduled to issue its final report October 30.