The commander of the U.S. Army’s sprawling base at Fort Hood is being removed from his position over the deaths of fifteen soldiers and the disappearance and alleged murder and dismemberment of an Army Specialist.
Major General Scott Efflandt was slated to move to the command position of the 1st Armored Division at the Texas-based Fort Bliss, but will no longer assume the position according to a U.S. Army statement released Tuesday. The decision to delay a division command post is a strong message from ‘Big Army’ and will likely hasten the end of General Efflandt’s career.
The Army will announce General Efflandt’s replacement in the coming weeks.
The warning signs were there since June. The Army had decided to put Efflandt’s transfer on hold pending an investigation into the disappearance and deaths of several soldiers at the base, many of whom had come forward with reports of sexual assault.
The Army is investigating whether leadership failures and systemic problems at the base led to the deaths of the soldiers. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy has already arrived at Fort Hood and said that members of an independent panel would begin their review of the “command climate of the installation,” to determine if there is a “sexual harassment-type toxic environment.”
The independent panel review is being overseen by Army Under Secretary James McPherson.
“The purpose of this independent review is to examine whether the command climate and culture at Fort Hood and the military community surrounding Fort Hood respects Army values — including respect, inclusiveness, and workplaces free from sexual harassment and a commitment to diversity,” McPherson said.
Fort Hood has been plagued by a series of soldier deaths since the disappearance and death of SPC Vanessa Guillen who was last seen on the base on April 22. Her remains were discovered nearly two months after her disappearance and her dismemberment and death has been linked to a fellow soldier. That soldier later died by suicide.
General Efflandt announces the death of SPC Vanessa Guillen on July 6, 2020. Courtesy of WAVE3 News.
Another soldier, Pvt. Mejhor Morta, was found in May by Stillhouse Hollow Lake, a reservoir near the base. In early June, officials also found the remains of another missing soldier, Gregory Morales, about 10 miles from the same lake.
Recently, Sgt. Elder Fernandes was found dead about 30 miles from the base. He claimed to have been bullied and sexually assaulted by a superior. The Army said the claims were unsubstantiated. In just the past year, 10 soldiers have gone missing at Ft. Hood, with five of those being classified as unsolved homicides.
The suicide rate at the base is alarming. According to reports, Fort Hood’s suicide rate is 47 in 100,000 people which is well over twice the national average. These figures continue to grow despite the base having 170 mental health professionals, the largest psychiatric staff in the Army. Soldiers from the base have also been implicated in a prostitution sting.
Maj. Gen. John Richardson IV will assume command at Fort Hood, effective Wednesday on orders from the commanding general of U.S. Forces Command, (FORSCOM), General Michael Garrett. MG Efflandt will remain at Fort Hood for support, serving as deputy commanding general.
Gen. Garrett is also said to be appointing Gen. John Murray, commanding general of U.S. Futures Command, to “lead an in-depth investigation into the chain of command actions related to Spc. Vanessa Guillen,” a released statement said.
The Army has several open investigations at Fort Hood already. Now Gen. Murray’s investigation will tie those efforts into a larger look at the base’s leadership and seek to bring justice to the deceased service members.