Dead, wounded remembered at ceremony, families continue to heal
November 8, 2010
FORT HOOD, Texas -- One year ago, Fort Hood mourned the loss of 12 Soldiers and one civilian lost Nov. 5, 2009, during a mass shooting at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center.
Last week, the post marked the one-year anniversary of the worst shooting ever on a U.S. military installation with a remembrance ceremony.
Army and Fort Hood leaders joined families of the fallen and wounded Friday, as well as members of the greater Fort Hood community, to honor the memory of those lost one year ago.
"One year after the tragedy, we gather to honor the fallen and wounded, to grieve with their families, to recall the valiant efforts of the first responders, and to thank the community for their outpouring of support," Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George Casey, Jr. said.
Casey called last year's shooting a "kick in the gut." He reinforced that message one year later.
"We mourned that day with the 19 children, spouses, parents and untold loved ones they left behind," he said. "While the pain of their loss is still strong a year removed, the memories of their lives, of their service and sacrifice, has been a source of strength for those who knew them best."
During his remarks, Casey recalled the differences of the victims as well as their shared spirit.
The 13 killed at Fort Hood Nov. 5, 2009 were Active Duty Soldiers and Reservists, civilians and retirees ranging in age from 19 to 62. They came from all walks of life.
"As different as they were as individuals, these 13 fallen heroes were bound together by a spirit of service, and a desire to be part of something greater than themselves," Casey said.
The Army Chief also referenced the ceremony earlier that day and the granite monument placed at Memorial Park in honor of the 13 fallen.
"Monuments help keep memories alive and keep fresh in our minds the knowledge that the families of the fallen require the continued attention of a grateful nation," Casey said. "The names inscribed on the memorial are a constant reminder of that obligation.
Casey recalled meeting with members of the 467th Combat Stress Control Detachment and Fort Hood's 20th Engineer Battalion, two of the unit's hit hardest by the shooting, in Afghanistan during their deployments. Four of those killed and 11 of the wounded were assigned to the 20th Eng. Bn.
He spoke about the two units' resilience and the success they found in Afghanistan.
"I saw members of the 467th last year in April in Afghanistan. I was impressed with their resilience , working hard to come to grips with what happened here even as they poured themselves into helping other Soldiers deal with combat stress," Casey said. "In Afghanistan, the 20th Engineers have had a remarkable record of success."
It was that resilience and drive to continue the mission that were recalled at the one-year anniversary. As the families and community together mourned the dead, they also found strength and hope in the wounded.
"As we think about the scope of what happened here, we know that we will continue to grieve for some time to come," Casey said. "Even as we do that, we can't help but be inspired by the resilience of these wounded."
Of the severely wounded, Casey spoke about Pfc. Alan Carroll and Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler.
Carroll was shot multiple times while trying to save a friend. After a few months of physical therapy, Carroll deployed on time with the 20th Eng. to Afghanistan.
Zeigler, a 1st Cavalry Division cavalry scout, was shot four times and is currently fighting to recover and stay in the Army.
While the stories of the fallen and wounded were recounted throughout the ceremony, it was the voice of a child that resonated.
Rhema Marvanne, a 7-year-old gospel singer, accompanied by Rick James, touched the crowd with the song, "The Prayer."
"I pray you'll be our eyes and watch us where we go and help us to be wise in times when we don't know," Marvanne sang, as the lyrics of the song stirred some of the families deeply.
"It was like it was written for us," Leila Hunt-Willingham, sister of Spc. Jason Dean Hunt who was killed during the incident, said. "I don't think I've ever heard anything more beautiful."
Hunt-Willingham returned to Fort Hood to attend the ceremonies and leave 1987 coins, from the year her brother was born, throughout the installation.
"I come back pretty often," she said.
Looking back one year from the "worst moment of our lives," Hunt-Willingham said she has gotten to know some of the families of the fallen and wounded.
"We've had a year to get to know each other," she said. "We are bound by this tragedy."
One family member made his first trip to Fort Hood last Friday.
Phillip Warman, whose wife, Lt. Col. Juanita Warman, was killed at the SRP site last year, traveled from Maryland to attend the remembrance ceremony and memorial unveiling held earlier that day.
"The day, as a whole, was overwhelming and very touching," Warman said. "I wanted to see and get a better understanding of what happened."
For the families of the fallen, the one-year anniversary marked the last of the firsts, Maj. Gen. Will Grimsley, Fort Hood senior commander said, but also a lifetime of "nexts."
The loss is not in vain, but an inspiration. Fort Hood watched the wounded heal. This is the legacy, Grimsley said.
"All of us in Fort Hood and the Central Texas community share in your grief," Grimsley told the 134 family members of the fallen. "There were thirteen holes left in our respective formations."
Although those holes have been filled with replacements, Grimsley said the loss remains.
"Always mourn their loss," the general said. "Use their examples of strength for the future."
Casey said the Nov. 5 families appreciated the opportunity to reflect and remember.
"It's been cathartic for them," Casey said. "They're all struggling. It's not easy and it's not over."
At Fort Hood, strength continues to come from the Army family of Soldiers, retirees, civilians and their family members.
"The Army family helped all of us cope," Secretary of the Army John McHugh said during a press conference following the remembrance ceremony. "It is today that holds us together."
The Army today is a stronger Army and a safer Army, McHugh said, "we learned from one year ago."
Changes at Fort Hood and Army-wide have been made in light of last year's shooting.
"We've made good progress here (at Fort Hood)," the Army Chief said.
Casey talked about some of the lessons learned and the best practices sharing that have followed last year's shooting.
Increased threat awareness, improved Neighborhood Watch programs, better coordination and intelligence sharing among agencies and enhanced training of security personnel have been implemented in the aftermath, Casey said.
In addition, federal law enforcement authorities have been granted access to the National Crime Information Center to "ensure those who come in (an installation) are checked," McHugh said.
Casey said coming back to Fort Hood for the ceremonies was like reliving last year.
"The toughest part is remembering," Casey said. "This whole thing is gut-wrenching and uplifting at the same time."
Overall, the Army one year after the Fort Hood shooting is making good progress, the Army leaders said. Dwell time is increasing and behavioral health programs are growing.
At Fort Hood, the strong community support has played an important part in the recovery as well as helping Soldiers and families deal with the high operational tempo of today's Army.
"It's a great place surrounded by a great community," Casey said. "I think that made a huge difference."