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Military community moves beyond tragedy; deployment cycle continues

Email   Print   Share By Dave Larsen, Sentinel Editor
January 6, 2011 | News
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Returning from the holiday season, Fort Hood rang in 2010 still reeling from the tragic Nov. 5, 2009 shootings that took 13 lives and wounded dozens more. The safety and security of the Fort Hood community, as well as the behavioral health needs of those most closely affected by the shootings in late 2009 were top priorities for III Corps and Fort Hood commanding general, Lt. Gen. Bob Cone, even as he and his corps headquarters prepared to deploy to Iraq.

Cone met with reporters Jan. 8, 2010, to outline the installation’s efforts to address security and behavioral health concerns throughout the year. He noted the creation of a Recovery and Resiliency Task Force, which would track how Soldiers and civilians affected by the shootings are rebuilding their lives.

“My assessment is the resiliency of the American Soldier, family members and community is good,” Cone told the Central Texas media members at a luncheon. “We’re moving on, but giving appropriate respect to what has happened here.”

A Behavioral Health Campaign plan, formulated in the wake of the shootings, continued providing service and assistance to the afflicted throughout 2010. Three separate online surveys were also conducted in 2010, the third concluding in early December, gauging the community’s health care needs and how those needs were being met. Improvements and expansions were made to the installation’s Resiliency Campus programs in 2010 to help meet community needs, including opening a Multifunctional Fitness Center.



HEARING HELD

The legal process made the headlines several times in 2010 as extensions granted to the defense team of Maj. Nadal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged with 13 specifications of premeditated murder and 32 specifications of attempted murder, delayed an Article 32 Hearing until mid-October. That hearing concluded in mid-November.

At the hearing, 56 witnesses testified for the prosecution over a two-week period. No witnesses were called by the defense during the proceedings. Though the hearing concluded, the legal process continues.

“This is an on-going, deliberate legal process,” Fort Hood public affairs officer and spokesman Tom Rheinlander said following the hearing Nov. 15. “The Rule of Court Martial 706 board, commonly referred to as a ‘Sanity Board,’ is still an on-going process.”

A recommendation from the hearing is expected to be delivered to the convening authority later this month. The charges against the accused are allegations, and Hasan is innocent until and unless proven guilty.



HEROES HONORED

Soldiers and civilians caught in the cross-fire Nov. 5, 2009, as well as first-responders to the tragedy were honored in 2010 for their courage and commitment. That quick response was lauded as part of a Department of Defense report released Jan. 15, 2010.

Two Fort Hood police officers credited with ending the shooting spree, Police Sgt. Mark Todd and Officer Kimberly Munley, received national acclaim at President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, Jan. 27, 2010, where the pair sat with first lady Michelle Obama.

“His mannerisms are so relaxed,” Todd said of meeting the president. “He is just a normal person, like everyone else.” The pair has been honored by several national organizations for their heroic efforts.

Todd and Munley were also among the 52 Soldiers and first-responders who were honored on the first anniversary of the incident, as the Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, and Army Chief of Staff, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., presented them with the Secretary of the Army Award for Valor at Fort Hood, as well as 10 Soldier’s Medals. One of those medals was awarded posthumously to the widow of Capt. John Gaffaney. A memorial stone was also unveiled at the Nov. 5 ceremony, honoring the 13 lives lost in the shootings.

“Their actions inspire awe,” Maj. Gen. Will Grimsley, Fort Hood senior commander, said of those present at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center and the first-responders efforts that day.

Many family members of the fallen attended the one-year anniversary events at Fort Hood. Casey called it a “cathartic” event for them.

“They’re all struggling,” he said at a memorial event held later that day. “It’s not easy and it’s not over.”



COMINGS AND GOINGS

Deployments, the continual coming and going of military members to and from Fort Hood, remained the “new normal” at the Great Place in 2010. Just two weeks after the 1st Cavalry Division uncased its colors on Cooper Field announcing the division’s return from its third tour of duty in Iraq, III Corps cased its colors Feb. 2 as it became the nucleus of United States Forces – Iraq.

“After nearly seven years of sacrifice by hundreds of thousands of U.S. servicemen and women and their families, success in Iraq is on the horizon,” Cone said at the color-casing ceremony. “III Corps will play a major role in the coming year in helping set the condition for that success to someday come to fruition.”

Other major unit movements in 2010 included the 36 Engineer Brigade and 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment’s deployments to Iraq, and the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division’s departure for Afghanistan.

Combat troops were pulled out of Iraq in 2010, as U.S. forces have taken on an “advise and assist” mission in that country. Meanwhile, Fort Hood remains active in the preparation of troops to deploy in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Fort Hood also welcomed a new unit to the installation July 7, as the 479th Field Artillery Brigade uncased its colors on Cameron Field and joined First Army Division West. The brigade moved here from Fort Sill, Okla., becoming Div. West’s third training brigade on the installation.

“It is hard work and requires tremendous coordination and attention to detail to pick up and move a brigade, and soon after, take on the training mission at a new location,” Maj. Gen. Charles A. Anderson, Div. West commanding general, said at the July 7 ceremony.



EDUCATIONAL EFFORTS

Two major events in 2010 will have a lasting impact on the educational aspirations of the Fort Hood military community.

The first was Jan. 13, when Central Texas College held a grand opening for its new classroom building. The new facility is home to 21 new classrooms and four state-of-the-art computer labs. The two-story, 26,659-square-foot facility cost $4.25 million to construct.

Then on Aug. 26, Texas A&M – Central Texas broke ground on a new campus complex. Texas Governor Rick Perry called the ground-breaking, “… a big day for Central Texas … that can, and will change lives.”

University officials expect construction of the first campus building to be completed by February 2012.



STRONG COMMUNITY

Throughout 2010, the Fort Hood military community displayed its resilience as record numbers attended events such as Earth Fest in April, Freedom Fest on the Fourth of July, Rock the Hood Nov. 6, and the WWE’s Tribute to the Troops last month.

Still, behavioral health issues remained a top issue for the Army in 2010 and beyond.

Traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress are the “signature wounds of the war,” Army Vice Chief of Staff Peter Chiarelli told Fort Hood’s Health Promotion Council Sept. 21. Chiarelli said the first step in addressing these issues is a cultural change in the Army.

“We’ve got a cultural issue,” he said. “We’ve got to change the culture, so Soldiers realize that they need to seek help when they need it.”

Suicide prevention, likewise, remained an important issue for the Army in 2010, as well as here in Central Texas. The key to suicide prevention is engaged leadership, according to senior leaders here.

“We use this term of ‘engaged leadership,’ in some cases, it requires intrusive leadership to break through some of these little points of insularity that we’re finding in our Soldiers and certainly in society,” Grimsley told media members at the Resiliency Campus Sept. 29.

“I tell you that every one of these is tragic,” he said of the suicides committed in 2010. “The rate is higher than any of us, anybody in a leadership position in the Army wants,” he stressed. Grimsley said Fort Hood remains dedicated to the well-being of its force and their families.

“I think we have extraordinary resources at Fort Hood,” he said, noting family life consultants, chaplains, behavioral health specialists and Army Community Services counselors available to Soldiers, civilians and their families, dedicated to the well-being of body, mind and soul.

“The point is,” he said, “there are an awful lot of people who are committed to do the right thing.”
 
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