Amid relentless messaging from senior Army leadership that the service is prioritizing people above all else, a Fort Hood non-commissioned officer says he and his soldiers are living in a starkly different reality.
Sgt. 1st Class Cory Wrieden, who is currently serving with the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, posted two videos on social media site TikTok last week in which he made allegations of broken leadership that he’d observed over the last year.
Those allegations included retaliation against Wrieden for visiting behavioral health services and allowing a warrant officer to remain in their formation virtually unpunished after Wrieden informed leaders that the warrant officer told another soldier to kill himself.
Wrieden told Task & Purpose that he hadn’t planned to take his allegations public and that he’d repeatedly tried to get things handled internally. But after months of his concerns going ignored, Wrieden said he reached a breaking point when one of his superiors made a snide comment about him when he didn’t know he was listening.
In both videos posted last week, Wrieden speaks calmly to the camera. In the first, he holds a lit cigarette in his hand as he claims that during a recent visit to his first sergeant’s office, his battalion sergeant major made a comment on speakerphone that unit leaders were “babysitting” Wrieden not knowing he was in the room.
When the sergeant major was told that Wrieden had heard him, he purportedly responded that he didn’t “give a damn.”
“I go to behavioral health one time and now I’ve gotta be babysat,” Wrieden said in the video. “And you wonder why soldiers don’t seek help.”
In a follow-up video, Wrieden elaborated further that he was upset about what had happened the day prior because the same sergeant major who was on the phone originally introduced himself as someone who is “all about the soldiers.” That didn’t seem to actually be the case.
Wrieden also mentioned in the video that a warrant officer in the sergeant major’s formation “that told a soldier that he should kill himself last year, and he’s still doing his job.”
In an interview with Task & Purpose, Wrieden laid out the plethora of issues he’d allegedly run into with various leaders at the platoon, company, and battalion level at Fort Hood, claiming that he’d identified the problems in command climate surveys and raised the issues to leadership but nothing was ever done.
Wrieden emphasized that the problems he’d found didn’t include everyone in his chain of command, but that he’d exhausted all his other options before he decided to make his problems public.
“I’m not going to be quiet anymore,” he told Task & Purpose. “And they sit there and they tell you, ‘Well you’ve got all these other avenues that you can take, Sgt. Wrieden.’ Well I tried it — I used the open door policies, I talked to first sergeants and commanders, I talked to the battalion sergeant major … Don’t tell me to trust the process when the process has failed me the whole time, and my soldiers the whole time.”
Lt. Col. Chris Brautigam, a spokesman for the 1st Cavalry Division, said in a statement that the division was “aware of the allegations” from Wrieden and is “addressing those concerns.”
“Some of the concerns and the way they will be addressed are near completion and will be executed shortly,” Brautigam said, though he didn’t offer specifics. “Furthermore, we are conducting another formal investigational [sic] into the additional allegations he has made. … We take the health of our formation very seriously. Moreover, we are ensuring that we place consistent emphasis and effort on this by our leaders at every level. We have an obligation to ensure all of our Troopers are taken care of so that we can continue to be ready when our nation calls.”
'Now they have to listen, now they can't hide it'
One of the first problems Wrieden observed in his unit was a chief warrant officer 2 who would “throw stuff when he got upset” and “degrade” soldiers, he told Task & Purpose. In one instance last year, Wrieden said, the warrant officer “told a soldier he should kill himself, right to his face.”
The chain of command said they’d “talk to” the warrant officer, but as far as Wrieden knows, “nothing was ever done.”
“The sad part about it is, I would talk to other people, other officers who are higher ranking than me, and NCOs, and they’d be like ‘Oh yeah, I’ve heard the same thing,’” Wrieden said. “But none of them would do anything about it. They would just let him do this. Like, if you know about it, why don’t you say something?”
The other issues quickly piled up. Over the summer, Wrieden said that his platoon was scheduled to go to the field for two weeks every month into next year and that his concerns over how it would affect soldiers went ignored. He said the new platoon leader “wasn’t coming to the field with us” and that over several weeks of training, his unit only saw him a handful of times.
Wrieden also said he had a number of issues with the first sergeant that led him not to trust him, including at least three times in which he reached out directly to him and was ignored.
During another incident in June, Wrieden was working on the company’s contract tracing team for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) when he was notified late one night that a soldier tested positive for the virus. He called the first sergeant to set up arrangements in the barracks for the positive soldier’s roommate — who was one of Wrieden’s soldiers — so they wouldn’t be exposed.
Early the next morning, Wrieden said the first sergeant texted him that the roommate would “have to stay put” for the time being and said that, between the two of them, the barracks manager was drunk.
“So you kept my soldier in a room all night with someone who tested positive for COVID, and you want me to keep it between us?” Wrieden said. “I replied back, ‘Sorry First Sgt. but that’s not staying between us. I get it, the death rate of COVID is low, but you knowingly put my soldier in danger.’”
Then, in August, Wrieden was told he was being sent to the battalion S-3, a staff position with the battalion focusing on operations and planning.
“The stigma behind NCOs going to S-3 is it’s the ones who are the problem kids, or they get in trouble,” he told Task & Purpose, adding that it hurt to be taken away from his soldiers.
“I’m not afraid to admit it, it really messed me up, them ripping me out of that platoon the way they did," he added. "I was the soldiers’ voice because I was the only one high enough ranking to do anything, and I protected them as much as I could, and then they ripped me from that platoon. They found a way to get rid of me, and it really messed me up because now these soldiers are down there by themselves.”
One morning in October, Wrieden said he was “mentally exhausted” and visited a behavioral health clinic for the first time ever because he just needed “to talk to somebody.” But everything came to a head last week while he was discussing another soldier who hadn’t shown up for formation with his first sergeant.
While they were talking, the battalion sergeant major called and the first sergeant put him on speakerphone, telling him about the soldier they were discussing.
“The sergeant major goes ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to have to move him, we ain’t got time to be babysitting soldiers up there, we’re already babysitting Sgt. Wrieden,’” Wrieden recalled. He and the first sergeant locked eyes, he said, and he didn’t say anything. He was confused about why he was brought up in the conversation in the first place.
Wrieden went to grab his things and leave the office, but decided to turn back around and confront the sergeant major instead.
“I’d had enough,” he said. “And I turned around and I was like ‘You know what sergeant major? I’m a sergeant first class. You don’t need to fucking babysit me.’ And then the first sergeant hung up the phone.”
Wrieden said he walked out, but the first sergeant went after him and brought him back into the office, closing the door. They were sitting down when the sergeant major called back, Wrieden explained, and the first sergeant asked if he could count on him to “keep your cool” before he answered the phone.
“He answers the phone, he’s still on speakerphone, and he’s like ‘Hey sergeant major, just letting you know, I had you on speakerphone and sergeant Wrieden heard everything you said,’” Wrieden recalled. “And this man goes ‘I don’t give a damn if he heard me.’ And that set me off again, so I .. was like ‘Fuck you,’ you know what I mean?”
Wrieden said there was no other reason for the sergeant major to have made a comment like that except for his visit to behavioral health. And his comments made more of an impact because the sergeant major — someone he’s had very limited interactions with — had previously asserted that he was “all about taking care of soldiers and their families.”
Wrieden was pissed and decided to take advantage of the brigade’s open-door policy, requesting to talk with the brigade commander. He talked with the brigade sergeant major instead and quickly got the impression that, again, nothing was going to happen.
Exhausted and furious, Wrieden decided to make his TikTok videos instead. His rationale: airing issues online seems to be “the only way you can hold people accountable.
“And it worked,” Wrieden said. “I got the desired effect, because now they have to listen, now they can’t hide it.”
Nevertheless, Wrieden was told last Thursday that he was being recommended for action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and was flagged for the way he spoke to the battalion sergeant major. He was also told he has to be evaluated for if he’s fit for duty because of his “outburst.”
“My career is done, progression-wise,” he told Task & Purpose.
When asked about the specific allegations leveled by Wrieden, Brautigam, the spokesman for 1st Cavalry Division, said that they take “all allegations regarding reprisals and access to mental health seriously and do our best to ensure that all of our Troopers in the 1st Cavalry Division have access to the care they require.
“We have initiated an investigation into these allegations and it would be premature to comment until that investigation is complete and approved,” Brautigam said. “Our leadership has taken and continues to take proactive measures to reinforce the importance of allowing our Troopers, regardless of rank or position, the opportunity and resources they need to work through challenges they may face in their lives; personally and professionally."
Wrieden said he plans to take this “as far as I have to” to get things fixed, because they “shouldn’t be leaders.” It’s not necessarily that the battalion sergeant major was talking about him when he didn’t know Wrieden was listening, he said; it’s that when he was told Wrieden heard him, he said he didn’t care. To Wrieden, that told him that if he’s talking that way about him, a sergeant first class, “what do you think he says about joes?”
'We only take care of our own when it benefits us, apparently'
Wrieden’s allegations come right as the Army is emphasizing a massive internal shift into a more people-centric organization and urging leaders to dedicate time and resources to better take care of their soldiers. Indeed, Army leadership announced in October at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference that people were officially the service’s number one priority instead of readiness. And the service leadership has paid specific attention to Fort Hood since the disappearance and death of Spc. Vanessa Guillén captured the attention of the nation.
But Wrieden said that, from his perspective, the renewed emphasis on taking care of people is just “a check the block thing” and that senior leaders are often too far removed from the bottom of the chain to actually know what’s going on.
“Once you reach a certain point in your military career — doesn’t matter if you’re enlisted or commissioned — you are so far disconnected on what it actually means to be a soldier … a sergeant major does not know what it’s like to be a regular soldier right now, a specialist and below,” he said. “There are some out there that genuinely care, I’m not saying all, but they’ve forgotten what it was like to be a specialist or a young lieutenant in the United States Army. They can’t relate to them. And that’s the issue.”
The Army seems to recognize that, at least on some level: part of the service’s push to prioritize people includes getting leaders to set aside more time to get to know their soldiers. When the service announced their new number one priority, part of the move was a plan to reduce operational tempo for units “to provide leaders additional time to invest in their people,” according to an action plan sent out to Army leaders.
But then there’s the question of how accurate a leader’s look is at their soldiers’ lives. While senior leaders planned to schedule listening sessions to get unfiltered commentary from soldiers and Army civilians about the challenges they face, the natural question: is how honest will soldiers be with their superiors about the things they hate, the things they wished would change, and the issues they see?
Wrieden said that when senior leaders have visited Fort Hood, they’ve only seen “what everybody wanted them to see.”
On Thursday, Wrieden called into WTF Nation Radio after he was counseled and told he was being recommended for UCMJ action. He said that during his counseling, he asked the first sergeant and sergeant major, “at what point do people start helping me?”
Wrieden tried to go about getting help the right way, he said, before he took things to social media. And if this is happening to him, a senior non-commissioned officer, “think about the joes.”
“I’ve been in the Army for 15 years now, and we talk about ‘Oh, we’re going to take care of our soldiers, we’re going to take care of our own,’” Wrieden said. “But we only take care of our own when it benefits us, apparently … and it doesn’t sit right with me.”