The timing of the Army's nation-wide hiring campaign couldn't have been much worse.
The service kicked off a three-day hiring spree on June 30, during which leaders hoped to bring in 10,000 new soldiers. The first-of-its-kind push was intended to turn every person affiliated with the service, including veterans, into “active” recruiters.
But at the same time, the Army has been forced under the microscope as the case surrounding a missing soldier from Fort Hood unraveled over the last few days.
Spc. Vanessa Guillen's story started similarly to many of the other young people the Army is recruiting — she'd “dreamed of being a soldier” from the time she was 10 years old, her sister said at a press conference on Wednesday.
But the 20-year-old soldier went missing from Fort Hood on April 22 and hadn't been seen or heard from since. Now, her family's attorney has claimed that Guillen was murdered in her unit's armory by another soldier, who later dismembered her body with the help of his girlfriend.
One can't help but wonder: Does a case like this discourage potential new soldiers from joining? Does this kind of news dissuade the “influencers” — a core group that the Army tailors its messaging to, which includes parents, teachers, and coaches — from encouraging the young people they know from signing that dotted line?
Lt. Col. Emanuel Ortiz, an Army spokesman, said the service shares “the deep concern individuals and groups across the nation are feeling for SPC Vanessa Guillen.”
But, he said that the Army hopes “transparent discussions” with recruiters will help potential soldiers “see the values we work to instill in all who choose to serve and the high standards we expect.”
“With respect to recruiting, we understand there are many factors that influence an individual’s decision to join the Army,” Ortiz said.
Guillen's family also said that she was being sexually harassed by a superior, though authorities said on Thursday that they currently have no evidence of that.
Still, the case has brought a new fervor to a conversation that never quite went away, regarding the military's ability to handle sexual assault and harassment allegations.
Men and women have flooded social media with posts detailing their own harassment or assault with the hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen, often pointing to leadership that failed to address their allegations and left them without the aid they needed.
When asked what the Army's message was to parents or teachers who might be concerned for the safety of a young person in their life thinking about joining the service, Ortiz said simply that sexual harassment and assault “does not belong in our Army.”
He added that Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) training is “required for all members of the Army Team” — though a recent Pentagon report revealed there was plenty of room for improvement in the program.
“These [sexual harassment and assault] incidents are contrary to our Army values and everything we teach and expect of our soldiers and Army civilians,” Ortiz said. “Leaders at all levels are central to preventing sexual misconduct.”