Twenty-eight Fort Hood service members have died since January. That includes five homicides, eight suicides, and four deaths that are still being investigated. Rumors and hearsay have swirled. Many have looked at the upper echelons of leadership for answers, closure, and, more importantly, a solid plan to stop the tide of needless soldier deaths.
In this recently published video, Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston condemned the command climate at Fort Hood. He said he supports the actions directed by the Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Staff.
For the uninitiated, the Sergeant Major of the Army, or SMA, is the highest-ranking enlisted non-commissioned officer (NCO) in the United States Army and reports directly to the Chief of Staff of the Army. The Army launched a probe into the glut of soldier deaths this year. It recently handed down sweeping punishments across the command, including removing the commanding general from his post and pausing his advancement to another base. The investigation has also led to policy change recommendations.
But in the video, SMA Grinston says that “policy did not create the culture at Fort Hood… Policy means nothing without leaders who enforce it.”
He then pointed a virtual finger at the non-commissioned officer corps — the sergeants who are the lynchpins in unit fitness and readiness. SMA Grinston suggests that the NCO corps is in part to blame for the deaths of the soldiers.
“Throughout the course of this review,” the Sergeant Major said, “it was clear that leaders at multiple echelons failed to take actions that uphold our values.”
But in an October report, seven sergeants assigned to Fort Hood came forward describing a “toxic leadership culture at Fort Hood that tolerates rampant drug use, sexual harassment, and misconduct on base, and in some instances, has allowed service members accused of sexual assault to remain within their ranks.”
The report went on to say that three of the NCOs “witnessed young soldiers in crisis who were ignored by their commanding officers and later attempted suicide.”
As a former Staff Sergeant, it angers me to see a schoolyard blame game emerging between the mid-level NCOs and the staff and officer corps. It’s clear that there were several leadership breakdowns that led to the deaths of these Fort Hood soldiers, but pointing fingers is not going to solve the problem. In fact, it undermines everything that we’re taught in the military. What’s more, the SMA pointing fingers at the NCO corps is disheartening.
The purpose of SMA Grinston’s video (which was published by the Army on its YouTube account) is unclear. Is he trying to say that the NCOs at Fort Hood are responsible for the deaths? Is he trying to motivate NCOs at Fort Hood and elsewhere to step up? Where does the responsibility for these deaths lie?
As one commenter on YouTube noted, the video smacks of the all-too-familiar “the buck stops… somewhere far below me.”
What do you think? Let us hear it below.