Fort Benning Public Affairs
FORT BENNING, Ga. – Leaders being trained in professional courses here must now take part in a classroom discussion of the sexual assault and other problems an independent review panel found last year at Fort Hood, Texas.
The aim is to have students delve into the issues raised in the Report of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee, and to reinforce through candid discussion the proper way to handle such problems should one encounter them, officials here said.
The panel's three-month review stemmed from concerns expressed by family members of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen, members of Congress and Hispanic advocacy groups during the investigation into Guillen's 2020 disappearance and murder.
Last year, then-Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy appointed the committee to "conduct a comprehensive assessment of the Fort Hood command climate and culture, and its impact, if any, on the safety, welfare and readiness of our Soldiers and units."
The Army released the committee's 136-page report in December. It lays out nine findings and 70 recommendations, and highlights, among other problems, flaws in how Fort Hood handled matters involving sexual assault and harassment.
Among its findings were that the command climate failed to instill below the brigade level the values of the Army's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Program, and that "implementation of the SHARP Program was ineffective."
And it said no commanding general or subordinate echelon commander "chose to intervene proactively and mitigate known risks of high crime, sexual assault and harassment. The result was a pervasive lack of confidence in the SHARP Program and an unacceptable lack of knowledge of core SHARP components regarding reporting and certain victim services."
The discussions are to be part of the professional military education courses taught by various components of Fort Benning's U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence.
MCoE's Command and Tactics Directorate (CATD), its Henry Caro Noncommissioned Officer Academy, and its 199th Infantry Brigade, have added the group discussion to their instructional schedules. The 316th Cavalry Brigade plans to begin one-hour sessions in late April or early May in its Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (ABOLC), after learning materials are finalized, brigade officials said.
Just how each course within MCoE conducts the session may vary from one to the other, but all are to involve group discussion.
One of the courses holding the sessions, for example, is the Maneuver Captain's Career Course (MCCC), which prepares students – who are newly-promoted captains, or lieutenants selected for promotion to become captains – for company command, or battalion or brigade staff responsibilities, mainly within Infantry or Armor units.
MCCC's student body of about 160 students consists of eight to 10 classes, known as small groups, each with about 16 students. Each group is led by a small group leader who is a member of the MCCC training cadre. The small group leaders are usually also captains, but with five or six years more experience than their students and have already held command and staff positions.
"Every MCCC class that graduated after the release of the report will have this as a lesson within their curriculum as career course captain students," said Col. Craig Butera, director of the brigade's CATD.
"When we think of, specifically, the Fort Hood report from the Independent Review Committee, there's lessons identified that could in a specific and particular way, prepare leaders to be company commanders," Butera said.
"This is the first level where there is this command climate, and every level of command above company, battery, troop, has command climate that commander's are responsible for establishing, building, maintaining, restoring if necessary," he said.
"So when we think of preparing captains to go out and lead at their unit," said Butera, "it's to be contributors of a healthy and productive climate in their organization, whether they're an assistant staff officer or whether they are a company commander, so in those staff jobs they'll have the opportunity to contribute towards the positive climate, and then when they're commanders and they're responsible for their outfit's command climate."
"At this small group level there's – we think – a higher likelihood of trust that a group has developed over their time together to be able to talk honestly and candidly about this report," said Butera, "and more broadly, about leader challenges that they've seen in their unit and they should expect to encounter when they get to their next unit."
Capt. Patrick Watts is one of MCCC's small group leaders and has thus far led three discussions of the report with groups of his students.
Students in MCCC are first told to read the report, and classroom discussion follows at a later point.
For Watts, his approach in leading his group's discussion is typically to begin by saying to the students something on the order of "'Alright, guys, you've all read the Fort Hood Independent Review. What were the nine findings? What are your thoughts on these?' And then a string presents itself and you pull on it and see where it goes."
He'll ask, he said, "'What does this mean?' 'What do you think about this?' And one of the questions I asked, was, 'Is any of this a surprise to you?' 'Do we think that the independent review correctly identified the actual responsible parties?' 'What do we think of the level of reaction?' 'Who do you think is actually responsible?' 'When you're a commander, what do you think would be your responsibility in all of this?' 'How would you identify these things before it becomes a problem?'
"And we had some pretty good discussion based on that," said Watts "I had several students who were from Fort Hood, kind of echoing the theme of the report – being that this could have been any installation," a view that drew agreement from many of the students, he said.
MCoE's Henry Caro Noncommissioned Officer Academy is also using group discussion of the report, geared to noncommissioned officers, or NCOs, and is made to tie in with an especially close focus on the SHARP Program, said Command Sgt. Major Joe C. Davis, the academy's commandant.
"We have the individuals discuss the findings, we have the small group leader talk about the findings, and then the group sits there and they discuss what they saw in the actual findings," said Davis.
The NCOs, he said, are asked things like, "'What did they see? And what are indicators?' And they talk about how could they have seen this and what should the individual do to actually correct these types of issues.
"It's open session," said Davis. "It stays in the small group. And we talk about everything from the SHARP to the missing Soldier piece to the lack of communication between the military and civilians that were involved. We talk about the crime rate on and off post and the sergeants' responsibility."
Although NCOs' responsibilities aren't as broad as those of company commanders, said Davis, NCOs "are absolutely responsible for the good order and discipline of the organization.
"And that's what we let these guys know," he said of the academy's students. "'These are your roles and responsibilities as a noncommissioned officer to enforce these policies and to ensure that this doesn't happen again. Because it erodes at the foundation of what we're built upon as a Army and a nation.'"
In the case of the199th Infantry Brigade, the group discussion has been added to its Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course (IBOLC), Officer Candidate School (OCS), and the Sniper Course, among others, said the brigade's executive officer, Maj. Randolph Powell.
Shortly after the Army released the report, the Army chaplain at Fort Benning deemed it worth immediate attention in ethics classes for leaders here.
"It struck me as, 'Hey, this is something – there are some ethical issues obviously going on,'" said Maj. Jared L. Vineyard, a chaplain who serves as ethics instructor and writer with MCoE's Combined Arms Integration Division, part of CATD.
He prepared a presentation and began making it the subject of some of the ethics classes he teaches at Fort Benning.
At least one of the crucial actions needed for curbing problems like those found at Fort Hood, said Vineyard, is taking pains to ensure the standards are known, and enforced.
"I always tell our officers, there's sort of three things, particularly when it comes to character, when it comes to the Army ethic, when it comes to a lot of these issues," he said.
"I first have to know what the standard is," he said.
"Secondly, I've got to live the standard," said Vineyard. "And thirdly, I've got to enforce the standard. You know, this is what professionals do.
"And, I tell officers, 'We have got some really solid doctrine. We have got a very high standard. The question though is, it's only good as the men and women who are executing it. And so we've gotta go back to the book, so to speak.'
"I just go back to, 'Okay, do they know what the standard is? Were they living the standard? Were they enforcing the standard?'"
Vineyard believes the discussions of the Fort Hood report can help by having leaders zeroed in on issues that have a great deal to do with quality leadership.
"'This is real life,'" Vineyard's been telling leaders in the classes. "'This is going on time-now. We really need to discuss these. America's sons and daughters are engaged with this, and you're their leaders.'"