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Pentagon links leadership failures to base violence

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Military bases at high risk for sexual assault, harassment, and other harmful behaviors often have leaders who don’t understand violence prevention, don’t make it a priority, and are more mission-focused than on their people, according to a Pentagon study concluded.

The review looked at 20 bases in the United States and Europe, including 18 with some of the most serious issues identified in command climate surveys. He found failures were worse at a number of bases in Germany and Spain where key leadership 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 the review was made public.

At Naval Base Rota in Spain, for example, officials said military mission requirements “took priority above and to the detriment of the well-being of sailors.” They said the sailors had reported bullying, mental health issues, sexual harassment and relationship problems, but were often unable to seek help due to the demands of their mission.

In one location, officials said, they found young enlisted men taking steps to help keep their female counterparts safe by keeping them away from more experienced leaders who harassed them.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin commissioned the report as part of his efforts to strengthen prevention of sexual assault and harassment across all forces, identify programs that work and ensure high-risk bases quickly retain the ‘Warning. Austin endorsed the report and, in a memo obtained by the AP, said it will help the department tailor improvements to bases where needs may vary.

“While we have made progress, we need to do more to build the integrated capacities we have on the ground to prevent sexual assault, harassment, suicide, domestic violence and other harmful behaviors,” he said. -he declares.

The report comes nearly two years after Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen disappeared from Fort Hood, Texas, and her body was found two months later. Guillen was killed by a soldier who her family says sexually harassed her and who committed suicide as police sought to arrest her.

His death and a number of other crimes, murders, and suicides have led to extensive scrutiny of assaults and other violence in the military and a series of reviews. 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’s goal is to find effective ways to prevent harmful behaviors, including sexual assault and harassment, suicides and domestic violence. They said this latest report is designed to identify what leadership and other failures are contributing to higher instances of such behaviors and what prevention programs and other changes are actually working.

Officials say 16 of the bases were selected because a command climate survey of nearly a million personnel identified problems there, including issues such as excessive alcohol consumption. , toxic leadership, stress and racial or sexual harassment. While serious problems were identified at these 16 bases, the report looked at a variety of factors for each location and did not specifically characterize them as the Army’s worst.

Two other bases were chosen because the survey showed good results, such as high morale, inclusion, and good leadership. Two others had a mix of high performance and problem units.

Officials said that while in many cases leaders had a genuine desire to prevent violence, there was a “pervasive” misunderstanding about how to do it and they often did not dedicate enough staff or resources to it. time or did not hold their subordinates accountable.

And even if they understood department policies, leaders often didn’t know when there was a high risk of violence or harmful behavior among their staff.

In the United States, the bases studied 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, Calif.; Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas; Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, Calif.; Dyess Air Force Base, Texas; Vandenberg Space Force Base, California; the Kentucky National Guard; and the Army Reserve base in Fraser, Michigan.

The latter two – the Guard and Reserve bases in Kentucky and Michigan – were chosen because they presented less risk and more positive command climates.

The overseas bases were: Army Garrison Ansbach, Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfatz Smith Barracks; Bavarian Army Garrison; Naval Station Rota; Stuttgart Army Garrison; and the Rheinland-Pfalz army garrison, Kaiserslautern. All except Rota are in Germany.

As an example, the report found that at the Kentucky National Guard base, leaders believed their soldiers came first and that their “welfare was part of the mission, not an adjacent effort that was secondary”. In contrast, base commanders in Germany and Spain “tolerated harmful behavior” and it was difficult to access resources “due to mission requirements or geographical dispersion of services”.

The report says the changes proposed by the Independent Review Panel will help resolve the issues. These improvements include building a dedicated prevention workforce, expanding sexual assault prevention and intervention programs, and better leadership. The budget for 2023 includes funds to hire additional staff.

The report also recommends that the department establish data to help military services share prevention and program support information and hold leaders accountable if they do not have a healthy command climate. Officials said it was important to ensure that leaders better understand prevention policies and programs and that service members and employees know where to go for help.

Officials also said there will be follow-up visits to bases by this fall and that similar site visits and reviews will be conducted every two years.

Austin is asking military service chiefs for implementation plans by early June and said the department will release more guidelines and policies by early October.