Army Opens 'People First Center' at Fort Hood in Response to Reported Deaths, Assaults

The Army has opened the People First Center at Texas' Fort Hood as a response to reports of suicides and assaults, the Associated Press said.

The center will provide resources and support for soldiers who are victims of sexual assault or have had suicidal thoughts. It will also provide training on how to prevent suicide, substance abuse and sexual assault and harassment, as well as how to respond to assault allegations.

Lieutenant General Gary Brito, the Army's deputy chief of staff for personnel, said Thursday he hopes the center will provide "a very cordial, comfortable environment, responsive to any soldiers and victims, in a coordinated location, with experts that can also assist in other areas as well," the AP said.

Following the deaths of more than two dozen soldiers at Fort Hood in 2020, a review of the base found that military leaders were not adequately handling high rates of sexual assault and harassment, drug use and other problems, according to the AP. The review also concluded that the Criminal Investigation Division was understaffed, overwhelmed and filled with inexperienced investigators.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

U.S. Military Sexual Assault
Army officials unveiled a new resource and training center at Texas' Fort Hood on Thursday. Above, candles and flowers decorate a makeshift memorial in Houston for Army Specialist Vanessa Guillén on August 14. Guillén was killed at Fort Hood in April 2020. MARK FELIX/AFP via Getty Images

The review also found that female soldiers feared retaliation and compromised confidentiality if they filed complaints.

In April, Army officials disciplined 21 officers and noncommissioned officers, including firing eight senior commanders, related to the murder of Specialist Vanessa Guillén, who was killed at Fort Hood in April 2020. According to Guillén's family, she had been harassed in the months before her death.

Fort Hood officials said Thursday that some additional recommendations have been put in place for the base while others still needed to be implemented, but did not provide details of programs to address soldiers' concerns about how reports of sexual assault and harassment are handled at the Texas base.

Brito said the People First Task Force was working to change these systems across the Army informed by data collected from pilot programs at other bases to address sexual assault and harassment reporting. He is one of the chairs of the panel.

"I know some goodness will come out of it over time, by doing this right, the intellectual energies behind it and more importantly the passion of leadership behind it," Brito said. The task force has helped to implement dozens of recommendations from the independent review.

The People First Task Force has also established pilot programs at six other Army facilities that aim to improve services for soldiers who report sexual harassment or assault.

Colonel Kelly Webster, deputy director of the People First Task Force, told reporters Wednesday that the program would allow soldiers to report assaults outside their chain of command while providing such resources as victim advocates, chaplains, health care workers and more.

Being allowed to go outside the chain of command has been a common request. Soldiers have said their reports are sometimes ignored or belittled by unit commanders, who often know the victim and alleged assailant. Kelly said the program would also reduce the possibility of a commander retaliating against a soldier who reports an assault.

Colonel Erica Cameron, who is leading the effort to revamp the sexual assault response program, said even though Fort Hood was a catalyst for the latest studies and changes, it was not included in the initiative because there were already changes afoot at that base.

The six locations are Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland; Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Irwin, California; Fort Riley, Kansas; and Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The Army Reserve will set up a virtual center for the 99th Readiness Division which is based at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.

The pilot program is expected to launch early next year.

People First Center Fort Hood
Army Deputy Chiefs of Staff Gary Brito, left, and William Zielinski discuss the People First Center, a new training and resource facility at Fort Hood, Texas, on Thursday. Acacia Coronado/Report for America via AP