Texas senator joins calls for Senate hearing on deaths at Fort Hood

Senator John Cornyn has joined calls for a Senate hearing into the command climate and culture at Fort Hood after the disappearances and deaths of several soldiers stationed there, including SPC Vanessa Guillén. 

The Texas senator and two Democratic U.S. senators from Massachusetts, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, sent a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee leadership to request they hold a hearing on recent deaths at Fort Hood.

“As parents and United States Senators, we are heartbroken by the deaths of SGT Fernandes, SPC Guillén, and the other U.S. soldiers stationed at Fort Hood, and we are determined to seek justice and answers for their families and to ensure the Army is implementing necessary reforms at Fort Hood, and that Congress is holding the Army accountable,” the senators say.

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The senators wrote: “We write to respectfully request that the Senate Armed Services Committee hold a public hearing with the independent review panel and Army leadership on the command climate and culture at Fort Hood, Texas.”

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“We believe that an open hearing before the Committee with the panel members, none of whom are affiliated with the Army, followed by Army leadership who can testify to the service’s plans for implementing any recommendations provided by the panel, will provide an opportunity to candidly discuss its findings and recommendations and engage in a dialogue on ways that Congress and the Army can ensure a supportive command climate at Fort Hood for all of its soldiers.”

The leaders on the committee are U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI).

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The full letter is below:

Dear Chairman Inhofe and Ranking Member Reed:

We write to respectfully request that the Senate Armed Services Committee (the Committee) hold a public hearing with the independent review panel and Army leadership on the command climate and culture at Fort Hood, Texas.

On July 30, 2020, Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy announced the appointment of a panel consisting of five civilian experts to conduct an “independent review […] to determine whether the command climate and culture at Fort Hood, and the surrounding military community, reflects the Army’s values, including safety, respect, inclusiveness, and a commitment to diversity, and workplaces and communities free from sexual harassment.” We request this hearing in the aftermath of the deaths of 23 year-old Sergeant (SGT) Elder Fernandes2 and 20 year-old Specialist (SPC) Vanessa Guillén, two U.S. Army soldiers stationed at Fort Hood. They were the latest in a series of tragic deaths of soldiers from this base this year.

As parents and United States Senators, we are heartbroken by the deaths of SGT Fernandes, SPC Guillén, and the other U.S. soldiers stationed at Fort Hood, and we are determined to seek justice and answers for their families and to ensure the Army is implementing necessary reforms at Fort Hood, and that Congress is holding the Army accountable. Secretary McCarthy’s decision to establish an independent review panel of highly qualified experts reflects the Army’s recognition that the status quo at Fort Hood is unacceptable. This panel is responsible for “review[ing] historical data, such as command climate surveys, Inspector General reports, criminal/military justice reports and sexual harassment and sexual assault response program statistics,” and “conduct[ing] interviews with military members and members of the Fort Hood community.” We understand that upon its completion the review will be submitted to James E. McPherson, Under Secretary of the Army, and General Joseph M. Martin, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, who will chair a team to consider recommendations and implement appropriate changes. We believe that a public hearing that allows the committee to question the panel and Army leadership is an appropriate and necessary step consistent with our oversight responsibilities.

Although we appreciate the Army’s deliberative approach, we believe that an open hearing before the Committee with the panel members, none of whom are affiliated with the Army, followed by Army leadership who can testify to the service’s plans for implementing any recommendations provided by the panel, will provide an opportunity to candidly discuss its findings and recommendations and engage in a dialogue on ways that Congress and the Army can ensure a supportive command climate at Fort Hood for all of its soldiers.

Thank you for your consideration of our request.

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