FORT HOOD, Texas (April 10, 2015) -- After nearly six years and a legislative wording change, shooting victims from the Nov. 5, 2009, attack on Fort Hood were recognized during a Purple Heart and Defense of Freedom award ceremony here, April 10.
III Corps and Fort Hood Commanding Gen. Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, joined by Army Secretary John M. McHugh, presented Purple Hearts and Secretary of Defense Medals for the Defense of Freedom to victims and Family members during the ceremony.
Thirteen people were killed during the shooting at Fort Hood's Soldier Readiness Processing, or SRP, Center. Another 31 were wounded by gunfire. The gunman was convicted and sentenced to death in September 2013.
"We honor the memories of the 13 souls laid to eternal rest [and] pay tribute to their sacrifice," MacFarland said. "We also remember the acts of courage and selflessness by Soldiers and civilians, which prevented an even greater calamity from occurring that day."
Purple Hearts were presented to representatives of 10 of the Soldiers killed, Nov. 5, 2009, as well as to 26 of those wounded. The Defense of Freedom Medal, the civilian equivalent of the Purple Heart, was presented to the family of Michael Cahill, the lone civilian contractor killed that day, as well as to Kimberly Munley, the Department of the Army civilian police officer, who was shot when she responded to the scene.
Purple Hearts for four Soldiers wounded and the Families of two Soldiers killed, Nov. 5, 2009, will be awarded at local ceremonies throughout the nation, MacFarland said. They will not be forgotten.
"We honor them, as well," the general said.
The recipients hailed from 21 states and units from across Fort Hood and throughout the United States, and of those killed, seven were active duty, five were Reservists, and one was a civilian contractor.
"Hundreds of lives have been woven together by this single day of valor and loss," MacFarland said. "Although no words can resurrect those we lost or completely erase the scars, today's ceremony is an opportunity to provide a sense of closure to those who were injured or those who lost a loved one."
He applauded the bravery of the first responders who rushed into the active scene, those who worked to distract the shooter so others could escape and those who provided emergency aid to the wounded.
"Their bravery has been matched only by their resilience - the spirit of which is seen throughout the Army," said MacFarland, noting the 20th Engineer Battalion on Fort Hood, which lost four Soldiers that day and had 11 wounded; and the 467 Medical Detachment, an Army Reserve unit based in Madison, Wisconsin, which had three Soldiers killed and four wounded in the shooting. "Despite these losses, both units deployed to Afghanistan within months," he said.
Retired Gen. Bob Cone, III Corps and Fort Hood commanding general at the time of the incident, recalled the resilience and bravery in face of that adversity.
Less than two months into command on Fort Hood, Cone was on his way to speak at a college graduation ceremony at Howze Auditorium, which shared a parking lot with the SRP site, when he was alerted to avoid the area.
He remembers the tragedy and pain of that day, but also the way the installation and surrounding community rallied.
"I think what struck me most was the tremendous sense of purpose and resilience of the Soldiers, civilians and first responders as the scene," Cone said. "At the moment of greatest need, these professionals were at their very best, using their combat training to respond to the crisis, to treat and evacuate the wounded, and care for each other."
Cone also was struck by the response from the Central Texas community.
"The outpouring of support for everything from blood transfusions to local hospitality for Families, to financial contributions, was simply amazing," the former III Corps commander said. "In so many ways, the community's response truly represents the remarkable bond between this installation and this community."
Heroes stepped up that day and continue to support those wounded and the Families of those killed, Cone said. Survivors have changed and adapted, and Cone has seen the progress made.
"I have monitored many of you as you have struggled, adapted, triumphed or stumbled. While there has been much pain, there has also been great progress," he said. "That is the essence of being a survivor [and] that is the essence of being a victor over a terrible incident like this."
Capt. Dorothy Carskadon, a Reservist with the 467th Combat Stress Control Unit on the day of the attack, returned to her civilian job as a social worker at a veterans' center following the incident.
Working with combat-theater veterans and their Families aided her recovery, Carskadon said.
"It really helped me move through the issues that I needed to move through," she said. Carskadon said she has found an outpouring of support for herself and her spouse from her community, church, Family and friends.
"It is overwhelming," she said. "It has been overwhelming since day one."
That support and resilience exhibited by Soldiers like Carskadon illustrated the victory that Cone said marked the ceremony.
"For the recipients of today's awards, both living and deceased, today is about victory," Cone said. "Today is about fully documenting and acknowledging your sacrifice for this great nation."
Many of those wounded that November day said the ceremony served not only as recognition of their sacrifice and injuries, but also of the magnitude of the shooting. They thanked the legislators for their efforts to make the awards presentations possible.
Receiving the Purple Heart validates her experience, Carskadon said.
"It validates that it was a terrorist activity," she said. "It draws a line, a distinction between workplace violence and terrorism."
Kerry Cahill, daughter of the lone civilian fatality, said there is more to do as too many veterans struggle with suicide and behavioral health concerns from incidents such as the one that claimed her father. Those concerns were what her father devoted his life helping Soldiers through.
"We're not done," she said. "With these medals, with all of this, comes a great weight, because I am not doing enough is how I feel every day because I can't do what my dad did, I am not in the room with a Soldier every day, asking how they're sleeping, asking if they need help."
Retired Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, who was shot seven times Nov. 5, while working alongside his friend Michael Cahill at the SRP site, shared those worries about veteran suicides and his fellow Fort Hood survivors.
"Within our Family, the Fort Hood Family," Lunsford said, "we stay in constant communication with each other so that we do not let those demons of the night come back and haunt us."