WASHINGTON – Military bases with a high risk for sexual harassment, harassment and other malicious behavior often have leaders who do not understand the prevention of violence, do not prioritize it and do not pay more attention to their mission than their people, a Pentagon review has concluded.
The review studied 20 bases in the United States and Europe, with 18 of the commands having more serious problems identified in the climate survey. It was found that the failures were worse at several bases in Germany and Spain where the original leaders and resources were not on site. Senior defense officials described the report to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the results before the review was made public.
At the Spanish naval station Rota, for example, officials said the need for military missions was “given top priority and for the well-being of sailors.” They said sailors reported bullying, mental health problems, sexual harassment and relationship problems, but often could not seek help because of the need for their mission.
At one point, officials said they saw enlisted young men taking steps to help their female colleagues stay safe away from their harassing more senior leaders.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered the report as part of his efforts to strengthen the prevention of sexual harassment and harassment across the military, identify programs that work, and ensure prompt attention to high-risk bases. Austin endorsed the report, and said in a memo obtained by the AP that it would help the department improve for bases where the need may change.
“While we have made progress, we need to do more to strengthen the integrated capacity of our soil to prevent sexual harassment, harassment, suicide, domestic violence and other harmful behaviors,” he said.
The report comes almost two years after the Army SPC. Vanessa Guillain went missing from Fort Hood, Texas, and her body was found two months later. Guillain was killed by a soldier who was told by his family that he had been sexually harassed and that he had killed himself when police tried to arrest him.
His death and many other crimes, murders and suicides led to higher investigations and multiple reviews on attacks and other violence in the military. 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 assistance.
Officials say Austin’s goal is to find effective ways to prevent harmful behavior, including sexual harassment and harassment, suicide and domestic violence. They say this latest report is designed to point out which leadership and other failures contribute to higher examples of such behavior and which prevention programs and other changes actually work.
According to officials, 16 bases were selected because a command climate survey of about one million workers identified problems there, including issues such as reckless drinking, toxic leadership, stress and racial or sexual harassment. Although serious problems were identified at these 16 bases, the report looks at different factors for each location and does not specifically identify them as the worst in the military field.
Two more bases were chosen because the survey showed good results, such as high morale, inclusion and good leadership. The other two had a mix of both high-performance and problem units.
Officials say that in many cases there was a “widespread” misunderstanding of how leaders could do it, even if they had a genuine desire to prevent violence, and they often did not provide enough staff or time or hold subordinates accountable.
And even if they understood departmental policies, leaders often did not recognize when there was a high risk of violence or malicious behavior among their people.
In the United States, the bases surveyed were: Fort Custer, Michigan; Naval Support Activity Sarasota Springs, New York; Fort Pollock, Louisiana; Fort Bliss, Texas; Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia; Marine Corps Base Hawaii; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California; Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas; Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California; Dice Air Force Base, Texas; Vandenberg Space Force Base, California; Kentucky National Guard; And Army Reserve Base in Fraser, Michigan.
The last two – Kentucky and Michigan Guard and Reserve Base – were chosen because they had a lower risk and a more positive command climate.
Overseas bases were: Army Garrison Ansbach, Army Garrison Rhineland-Paftage Smith Barracks; Army Garrison Bavaria; Naval Station Rota; Army Garrison Stuttgart; And Army Garrison Rhineland-Palatinate, Kaiserslautern. Everyone is in Germany except Rota.
For example, the report found that Kentucky National Guard base leaders believed their troops came first, and that they were part of a “recovery mission, an adjunct effort that was not secondary.” In contrast, commanders in German and Spanish bases had “tolerated malicious behavior” and had difficulty accessing resources “due to mission requirements or geographical dispersal of services.”
The report said the changes proposed by the Independent Review Board would help solve the problem. These improvements include establishing a dedicated prevention workforce, sexual harassment prevention and response programs, and better leadership. The 2023 budget includes funding for additional staffing.
The report further recommends that the department establish data to help prevent military services and program support information sharing, holding leaders accountable if they do not have healthy command weather. Officials say leaders have a better understanding of prevention policies and programs and it is important to make sure service members and employees know where to get help.
Officials added that follow-up inspections will be conducted at the bases during this fall and similar sites will be inspected and reviewed every two years.
Austin is asking military service leaders to implement the plan in early June and said the department will issue more guidelines and policies in early October.