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Fort Hood Soldiers Reach Out to Families, Each Other

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

KILLEEN, Texas, Nov. 10, 2009 – Waiting at the airport last night for the last families to arrive for today’s ceremony honoring victims of the fatal shooting rampage at nearby Fort Hood, several soldiers were dealing with their own pain and confusion by reaching out to families of the fallen and to each other.

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Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Hall, Army Sgt. 1st Class Marcus Rodriquez and Army Spc. Laurence Palmer man a table in Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport in Texas on Nov. 9, 2009, to welcome families arriving for a ceremony scheduled the next day to honor the 13 people killed and 38 others wounded during a Nov. 5 shooting rampage at Fort Hood. DoD photo by Donna Miles
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Hall, Army Sgt. 1st Class Marcus Rodriquez and Army Spc. Laurence Palmer manned a table near the airport’s baggage claim area, where they welcomed arriving families of the 13 people killed and 38 others wounded during the Nov. 5 incident.

“We’re here to meet the families, to hug them and tell them God is looking out for them,” said Hall, a member of the U.S. Army Garrison. “We hope to give them a sense of comfort and community and to make sure they know that the Army is there for them.”

Army Chief Warrant Officer 1 John Mabry, a human intelligence collection technician with 3rd Corps, stood with a list of incoming family members, checking to make sure all had transportation, a place to sleep and contacts for anything they might need while at Fort Hood.

“We want to be gracious hosts,” he said. “What we’re really doing is trying to help them through the worst time of their life.”

Army Chaplain (Capt.) Kehmes Lands stood by to offer spiritual support. “Some of the families are taking it really bad,” he said. “With others, you see them trying to hold it together in the airport. But as a chaplain, I can see through it, so I reach out to them.”

Lands took several of the arriving families aside last night, praying with them and telling them about services available for them through the post’s spiritual fitness center. Many of the families were gathered there last night, he said, seeking strength from each other through their shared sense of loss.

Memorial services are an all-too-familiar occurrence at Fort Hood, where the 1st Cavalry Division alone typically holds about one a month to honor combat casualties.

But Rodriguez, a U.S. Army Garrison soldier who’s been stationed at Fort Hood for two and a half years, was struggling last night to come to terms with how a soldier could have turned on his fellow soldiers.

“I have mixed emotions,” he said, including anger that the suspect is a soldier. “That has a lot of people upset,” he said. It’s just a tragic incident.”

“You expect something like this when you go to war,” said Army Staff Sgt. Andrea Hopkins, a reservist from the 1972nd Combat Stress Control Unit, who was among the mental-health team members called to Fort Hood after the shooting. “But it’s just not something you expect at home.”

Especially painful, she said, is the fact that the alleged shooter was a fellow mental-health provider, and that one of the soldiers wounded was a reservist from her Seattle-based unit.

As Hopkins stood at the airport last night awaiting another unit member’s arrival, she struggled with her own cloud of emotions, including guilt that she hadn’t been there for her fellow soldiers.

She and 12 other members of her unit had been slated to deploy to Iraq, but Hopkins’ name had been taken off the list, she explained. She hadn’t pushed to have her name reinstated -- mostly because she’d just returned from a deployment in 2007 -- and as a result, hadn’t been with them at Fort Hood’s Soldier Readiness Processing Station on Nov. 5.

One of her fellow reservists was shot and ended up hospitalized. Another, Hopkins’ battle buddy, hadn’t been hurt, but was badly shaken by the incident. “It makes you feel responsible when they are your soldiers,” Hopkins said. “My soldiers were there, and I wasn’t there for my battle buddy.”

If there’s one positive takeaway from the tragedy, Rodriquez said, it’s knowing how his fellow soldiers stood up to protect and help each other while in the line of fire.

“I’m so proud of these guys,” he said. “They did exactly what the Army taught them. They took care of their battle buddies and watched out for them. And when you think about what they did, the pride comes back.”

Lands predicted that today’s ceremony will help the entire Fort Hood community share that sense of pride, while helping families “get over the hump” to begin the long process of healing.

“They are going to see the good part of what we do: the perfection of the military, and how we honor soldiers, how we honor families and friends,” he said.

Lands said he’s been amazed at tragedy’s unexpected impact. “I’ve seen the community come together like never before,” he said. “We’re stronger today than we ever were before.”

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Related Sites:
Special Report: Tragedy at Fort Hood
Photo Essay: In the Aftermath of Tragedy
Photo Essay: Tragedy at Fort Hood
Fort Hood, Texas

Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Chaplain (Capt.) Kehmes Lands awaits families arriving at Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport in Texas on Nov. 9, 2009, for a ceremony scheduled the next day to honor the 13 people killed and 38 others wounded during a Nov. 5 shooting rampage at Fort Hood. DoD photo by Donna Miles  
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