WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) — Military bases at high risk for sexual assault, harassment and other harmful behaviors often have leaders who don’t understand violence prevention, don’t prioritize it, and are more on their mission than their people. Let’s focus, a Pentagon review has come to an end.
The review studied 20 bases in the United States and Europe, 18 of which included some of the more serious problems identified in command climate surveys. It found that failures were worse in many bases in Germany and Spain where key leaders and resources were not on site. Senior defense officials described the report to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the findings before releasing the review publicly.
For example, at Spain’s Naval Station Rota, officials said the requirements of the military mission were “prioritized above and at the expense of the well-being of the sailors.” He said sailors reported bullying, mental health issues, sexual assault and relationship problems, but often could not seek help due to the requirements of their mission.
In one place, officials said, they found that young enlisted men were taking steps to help stay safe by keeping their female peers away from harassing more senior leaders.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the report as part of his effort to strengthen sexual assault and harassment prevention across all forces, identify which programs work and ensure those at high-risk targets Get noticed soon. Austin approved the report, and said in a memo obtained by the Associated Press that it would help the department make corrections for locations where needs may differ.
“While we have made progress, we must do more to strengthen the integrated capabilities that are on the ground to prevent sexual assault, harassment, suicide, domestic abuse and other harmful behaviours,” he said.
This report has come almost two years after the Army SPC. Vanessa Guillen went missing from Fort Hood, Texas, and her remains were found two months later. Guillen was killed by a soldier who his family says sexually assaulted him, and who killed himself because police demanded his arrest.
Her death and several other crimes, murders and suicides prompted an investigation for a series of further reviews on attacks and other violence in the military. An independent panel appointed by Austin last year made more than 80 recommendations, including specific changes to improve leadership accountability, command climate and culture, and victim care and support.
Officials said Austin aims to find effective ways to stop harmful behavior, which includes sexual assault and harassment, suicide and domestic violence. He said this latest report is designed to pinpoint which leadership and other failures contribute to higher instances of such behavior and which prevention programs and other changes actually work.
According to officials, the 16 bases were selected because a command climate survey of nearly one million personnel identified problems there, including things like binge drinking, toxic leadership, stress and racial or sexual harassment. While serious problems were identified at these 16 bases, the report looked at different factors for each location and did not specifically characterize them as the worst in the military.
Two other criteria were chosen because the survey showed good results, namely high morale, inclusion and good leadership. The other two had a mix of both high performance and problem units.
Officials said that in many cases leaders had a genuine desire to stop the violence, but there was a “pervasive” misunderstanding of how to do it and that they often did not devote enough personnel or time to it or hold subordinates accountable. Used to stay
And even if they understood the department’s policies, leaders often did not recognize that they were at a high risk for violence or harmful behavior among their people.
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; Dice Air Force Base, Texas; Vandenberg Space Force Base, California; Kentucky National Guard; and Army Reserve Base in Fraser, Michigan.
The last two – guard and reserve bases in Kentucky and Michigan – were chosen because they had less exposure and a more positive command climate.
The foreign bases were: Army Garrison Ansbach, Army Garrison Rheinland-Pafatz Smith Barracks; Army Garrison Bavaria; Naval Station Rota; Army Garrison Stuttgart; and Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz, Kaiserslautern. All are in Germany except Rota.
As an example, the report found that Kentucky National Guard base leaders believed their troops came first, and that their “welfare was part of the mission, not an impending effort that was secondary.” In contrast, commanders at bases in Germany and Spain “tolerated harmful practices” and found it difficult to access resources “due to mission requirements or the geographic dispersion of services”.
The report said the changes proposed by the independent review board would help address the problems. Those improvements include the establishment of a dedicated prevention task force, expanded sexual assault prevention and response programs, and better leadership. The budget for 2023 includes funds to hire additional personnel.
The report also recommends that the department establish data to help military services share prevention and program support information, holding leaders accountable if they do not have a healthy command climate. Officials said it’s important to make sure leaders better understand prevention policies and programs and that service members and staff know where to turn to get help.
Officials also said there would be a follow-up visit to the bases from this fall, and similar site visits and reviews would be done every two years.
Austin is asking military service leaders for implementation plans by early June and said the department will issue more guidelines and policies by early October.