December 11, 2020

Duckworth Responds to Preliminary Army Actions after Deaths of Multiple Soldiers at Fort Hood, Including Vanessa Guillén

In July, Duckworth asked for an investigation into missing Soldier response protocols and many of her requests and concerns were addressed by the Army


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] — U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) who served in the Reserve Forces for 23 years, released a statement today in response to preliminary Army actions and the findings of an independent review into the command culture and climate at Fort Hood following the death of Private First Class (PFC) Vanessa Guillén. The Army’s actions reflect many of the priorities that were addressed in Duckworth’s letter to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy calling for a comprehensive investigation into Army regulations, policies and procedures governing the initial response to a missing Soldier.

“What happened to Vanessa Guillén, and others whose names we may not know, is a byproduct of failed leadership and a lack of accountability. And while I’m glad the Army is taking the initial steps needed for a cultural change in their ranks, it can’t stop at Fort Hood. In order to create a climate that is safe for all servicemembers, the entire Department of Defense must learn from the Army’s findings and bring meaningful change to every base in the country. Because it’s about justice, it’s about good order and discipline and it’s about doing what’s right by those who volunteer to serve.

“The findings from this independent review—as well as other ongoing investigations like the one I requested from GAO into the SHARP program—will help us improve our military systems and build back trust so tragedies like the ones we’ve seen at Fort Hood never happen again.”

Following the disappearance and murder of Guillén, Duckworth wrote to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and General James McConville asking for an investigation into how the Army handles missing Soldiers and requested that there be implementation of corrective actions to improve guidance consistently across the Army. In September, McCarthy responded and said that he shared her concerns and that the Army would include some of Duckworth’s requests and recommendations. In addition to releasing the report from the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee (FHIRC), and standing up a task force to address its recommendations, the Army has issued a new policy on missing Soldiers. Duckworth was pleased to see the Army take action in line with a number of her recommendations:


  • In her letter, Duckworth asked for a comprehensive review of Army regulations, policies and procedures governing the initial response to reports of a missing Soldier, followed by implementation of corrective actions. In his response to the Senator, McCarthy confirmed the Army would look at these procedures, which led to a release of new policy. The FHIRC also addressed this problem, finding that “there were no established procedures for first line supervisors in ‘failure to report’ situations that define appropriate actions in the critical first 24 hours.”
  • Duckworth raised a concern that the Army’s specific procedures for missing persons primarily focus on reporting absence without official leave (AWOL), desertion and special category absentee offenses and don’t account for situations that might warrant urgent law enforcement action. The Army has since created a new duty status code, so that not all Soldiers who are missing have to be reported as AWOL.
  • Duckworth requested implementation of improvements and updates designed to make sure that any time a Soldier is reported missing for more than 24 hours, a Commander has detailed, effective guidance on the best practices that should be taken. The Army Secretary has since published an order on missing persons procedures that gives detailed guidance on how to react when a Soldier’s whereabouts are unknown.
  • Duckworth asked that the Army consult with other organizations that have modernized their own missing persons policies and procedures and McCarthy confirmed that the “review will consider methods for leveraging partnerships with other Department of Defense agencies, civilian law enforcement, universities, and other appropriate organizations.”

In addition, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently confirmed that it has accepted Duckworth's request to review of the Army’s implementation and effectiveness of its Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program. SASC Ranking Member, U.S. Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, also joined as co-requester of this GAO review. Scope and timeline for this investigation are being discussed.