Pentagon links violence at military bases to leadership failures

A Pentagon review found that military bases at high risk of sexual assault, harassment, and other harmful behavior often have leaders who don’t understand violence prevention and don’t make it a priority.

Pentagon links violence at military bases to leadership failures

They also tend to focus more on their mission rather than their people.

The review included 20 bases in America and Europe. It also examined 18 bases with the most severe problems identified by command climate surveys. The failures were more severe at a number bases in Germany and Spain, where key leaders and resources were not on-site. Thursday's public release of the report was completed.

For example, at Naval Station Rota, Spain, the report stated that military mission requirements were prioritized over and at the cost of sailors' well-being. They also reported allegations of bullying, harassment, and relationship problems by sailors, but could not seek treatment due to mission requirements.

Officials stated that they discovered in one instance that young officers were making efforts to protect their female counterparts by keeping them from senior leaders who harassed them.

The report was ordered by Lloyd Austin, Defense Secretary. This is part of his efforts to strengthen sexual assault prevention across the forces and identify programs that work. It also helps ensure high-risk bases receive attention quickly. Austin approved the report and said in a memo that it would help the department to make improvements on bases with different needs.

He stated that while we have made some progress, it is important to continue to improve the integrated capabilities on the ground to prevent domestic abuse, sexual assault, harassment, suicide and other harmful behavior.

This report comes almost two years after Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen disappeared from Fort Hood in Texas. Her remains were discovered two months later. Guillen was murdered by a soldier who, her family claims, sexually harassed and killed her as police tried to arrest him.

Due to her death, as well as a variety of murders, suicides, there was increased scrutiny of assaults and violence in the military and a series review. Austin appointed an independent panel that made over 80 recommendations last year, which included specific changes to accountability for leadership, command climate, culture, victim care, and support.

Officials stated that Austin's goal was to find effective ways of preventing harmful behavior. This includes suicides, harassment, and sexual assault. This latest report was created to identify which leadership failures and other factors contribute to such higher incidences and which prevention programs or other changes actually work.

The report states that 16 bases were chosen after a survey of almost a million personnel found problems. This included binge drinking and toxic leadership, stress and racial harassment. Although serious problems were found at 16 of the bases, the report considered a range of factors and didn't identify any as the worst in military service.

Because the survey yielded positive results such as high morale and inclusion, two additional bases were selected. Two other bases had both high-performing units and problematic units.

Officials from the Defense Department stated that, while leaders were often motivated to prevent violence, there was an "omnipresent" misunderstanding of how to do so. They didn't have enough time or personnel to help and sometimes failed to hold their subordinates responsible.

Even if leaders understood the policies of their department, they often failed to recognize when there was a high likelihood of violence or other harmful behavior among their employees.

In the United States, the bases surveyed were: Fort Custer, Michigan; Naval Support Activity Sarasota Springs, New York; Fort Polk, Louisiana; Fort Bliss, Texas; Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia; Marine Corps Base Hawaii; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California; Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas; Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California; Dyess Air Force Base, Texas; Vandenberg Space Force Base, California; the Kentucky National Guard; and the Army Reserve base in Fraser, Michigan.

Because they were less risky and had more positive command climates, the Guard and Reserve Bases in Kentucky and Michigan were chosen.

These bases were: Army Garrison Ansbach; Army Garrison Rheinland–Pfatz Smith Bararcks, Army Garrison Bavaria, Army Garrison Bavaria, Naval Station Rota, Army Garrison Stuttgart, and the Army Garrison Rheinland–Pfalz. Except Rota, all are located in Germany.

The report showed that leaders at Kentucky National Guard bases believed their soldiers were first and that they "well-being was an integral part of the mission not an adjoining effort that is secondary."

According to the report, the independent review board proposed changes that would address the problem. These improvements include the establishment of a dedicated prevention workforce, increased sexual assault prevention, response programs, and improved leadership. Additional staff will be funded in the budget for 2023.

The report recommends that the Department establish data to assist the military services in sharing prevention and program support information. It also calls for the department to hold leaders responsible if they fail to create healthy command climates. Officials stated that it was important for leaders to better understand prevention policies and programs, and to make sure that service members and employees are aware of where they can get help.

Officials stated that the bases will be visited again by fall and that reviews and similar site visits will be conducted every two years.

Austin asked military service leaders to submit implementation plans by June 1. The department will then issue additional guidelines and policies by October 1.


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