Civilian independent review committee members arrive at Fort Hood

Five civilian members of a committee to conduct an independent review of Fort Hood have arrived in Killeen for a two-week fact-finding mission.

The Fort Hood Independent Review Committee will examine the command climate and culture at Fort Hood and the surrounding military community to determine whether they reflect the Army's commitment to safety, respect, inclusiveness, diversity, and freedom from sexual harassment. Members of the committee plan to meet with unit leaders, Soldiers, local officials, law enforcement, and community groups while in Killeen.

RELATED: U.S. Army announces panel for independent review of Ft. Hood

The US Army says committee members spent several days in Virginia reviewing historical data, attending background sessions, and finalizing administrative details.

Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and Gen. James McConville, Chief of Staff of the Army, have requested an interim program report by mid-September and a final report by Oct. 30.

RELATED: Army: Fort Hood has some of the "highest numbers" of violent acts, sexual harassment cases

The US Army says the committee's assessment will include a review of historical data and statistics; interviews with a wide range of Fort Hood personnel; an evaluation of policies, regulations and procedures regarding sexual assault prevention, sexual harassment, equal opportunity and responses to reports of missing soldiers; an evaluation of leaders' training, education, abilities and effectiveness; and the command climate at various units and its impact on the safety, welfare and readiness of their soldiers.

FHIRC members Chris Swecker, Jonathan Harmon, Carrie Ricci, Queta Rodriguez and Jack White have a combined 75 years of experience as active-duty military and law-enforcement personnel and have broad expertise with the law and government investigations, according to the US Army.

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Advocates have been calling for an investigation into Fort Hood after several soldiers have disappeared and were found dead in the past year. This includes Spc. Vanessa Guillen, whose family claims was a victim of sexual misconduct and Sgt. Elder Fernandes, who reported he was a victim of sexual misconduct

Guillen went missing from Fort Hood in April and her remains were found in a shallow grave near the Leon River in Bell County in June

Cecily Anne Aguilar, 22, of Killeen was arrested for second-degree felony tampering/fabricating physical evidence with intent to impair a human corpse in connection with Guillen's disappearance and murder. Federal authorities have also filed a conspiracy to tamper with evidence charge. Officials say Aguilar is the estranged wife of a former Fort Hood soldier. 

The other suspect in Guillen's disappearance was identified Thursday as Spc. Aaron David Robinson of Calumet City, Illinois. Robinson took his own life when law enforcement attempted to make contact with him after he fled from Fort Hood.

The criminal complaint against Aguilar shared by the US Attorney's office says that Robinson told Aguilar that he killed a female soldier by striking her in the head with a hammer while on Fort Hood on April 22. Robinson further admitted to her that he transferred the woman’s body off base to a remote site in Bell County. Subsequently, Robinson enlisted her help in disposing of the body.

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The proposed “#IAmVanessaGuillen” bill, written by the Guillen family’s attorney Natalie Khawam, will allow soldiers to report their sexual harassment or assault to an agency outside their chain of command. If passed it will provide a safe and independent way to protect soldier’s rights without fear of retaliation.

Fernandes went missing on August 17 and had been last seen by his staff sergeant when he dropped Fernandes off at his home in Killeen. He was later found dead in a suspected suicide near railroad tracks in Temple.

According to the Temple Police Department, a call was received regarding a medical call along the railroad tracks west of South 49th Street just after 5:30 p.m. on August 25.

The caller told police that a man was seen near the tracks and when officers arrived they found a body which they say appeared to have been there for some time. Fernandes' backpack was with him and police found his driver's license inside, according to his family's attorney. Police say there is no indication of foul play and that an autopsy has been ordered. 

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