By Melissa Bower, Fort Leavenworth LampJanuary 7, 2010
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Jan. 31, 2009) - When Chaplain (Maj.) Dawud Agbere saw news of a shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, Nov. 5, his first thought was of his fellow Army chaplains there.
"I thought, what a nightmare for the Fort Hood chaplains," he said.
The next day, Agbere was called by the Army Chief of Chaplains and told he would be joining them. Agbere took a short leave from his Intermediate Level Education at the Command and General Staff College to visit Fort Hood, a mission he called, "very fruitful."
"It was a fulfilling mission to be a part of that effort," he said.
As one of six Muslim chaplains in the U.S. Army, Agbere said his job is to tend to the religious needs of all Soldiers, not those who share his beliefs.
"We use this phrase, 'Muslim chaplain, Christian chaplain, Jewish chaplain,'" he said. "You know, I am not a Muslim chaplain; I am a chaplain who happens to be a Muslim."
Like many members of the military, Agbere was shocked when a fellow Soldier was accused of shooting unarmed civilians and other Soldiers at Fort Hood. Maj. Nidal Hasan is charged with the deaths of 13 people and wounding more than 30 others.
However, Agbere points out that similar things happen in the general civilian population.
"On a military base, we take security for granted," he said. "We believe that anyone in uniform can be trusted."
Agbere said there's a lesson for the Army to learn from the shootings, such as to intervene when a member of the military shows signs of abnormal or violent behavior.
"If you look at the signs that this guy showed ... if it were a low-ranking private, someone would have taken action, but because he was a major, nobody did anything. Rank has nothing to do with normalcy," he said. "If we see things like this, we need to jump on it."
Agbere said the Army went through a similar change in how it handles suicide prevention. In the mid-1990s, he said, chaplains were trained on how to talk to young Army privates about suicide prevention, but little else was done beyond this until a general officer committed suicide.
"We have to learn from this experience, rank has nothing to do with it," he said. "Army officers can be as crazy as anybody else."
While at Fort Hood, Agbere said the Army leadership reacted well by taking care of Soldiers and their families and being good community neighbors. Agbere said because the shooter also happened to be Muslim, leaders were making a special effort to reach out to the Muslim community, even visiting the local mosque in Killeen, Texas, to make sure no one was being harassed.
"I think the leaders did a good job to be pre-emptive, proactive and to take care of their own," he said. "They went far beyond the call to go on outreach in the area."
Agbere said it's far more common for him as a Muslim Soldier to have Army leaders offer him protection and support than to be harassed by members of the military because of his religion. From the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to the present, he has been told to notify his commanders of any problems he or his Soldiers experience.
"The Army as an organization is different than the rest of society," he said. "It does well with leadership, with diversity, if you have put your life on the line. I was at Fort Hood and nobody told me, said anything bad to me about being a Muslim."
As for those coping with the psychological effects of the shootings, Agbere said it is common to ask why.
"The guy that did this, he's just crazy," Agbere said. "My wife could have been a victim, because when he was shooting he was not paying attention to anyone. People like him are sick."
Agbere said when he offers spiritual guidance to Soldiers, it is often difficult for them to cope if they've had to kill someone while fighting a war.
"Soldiers who have to go to war and shoot people because it's their job, they have a hard time with that," he said. "A Soldier sometimes has to visit a chaplain to get a different perspective."
Agbere tells his Soldiers that their job is different than randomly killing unarmed people without due process. Soldiers have laws and rules to follow, he said.
Agbere said people who survived the tragedy will cope in their own, different ways - some may take a lifetime.
"For those who survive that, there is that sense of guilt, 'How did I make it when they didn't'' But when you're in that situation, this is a thing beyond your control. You don't get to make a decision of who gets to live. In times like this, they keep on asking why, and that answer never comes. If you dwell on the why, which will never come, you're going to struggle moving on. It's an event beyond your control."
Agbere said his faith plays an important role for setting a good example for his Soldiers.
"I see my role as living my faith," he said. "I just want to be a good human being. Often we, in the religious realm, like to preach. We like to say how great our beliefs are. But, it's a lot of talk."
Agbere said while there are many things in life that can't be controlled, one can try to make the best impression on another person and to help that person to the best of his or her ability.
"There are a lot of people we can take care of," he said. "Whether they are homeless or struggling with divorce, all these are social problems we are facing today, especially our young Soldiers."
At his class' ILE graduation Dec. 11, Agbere was presented the Father Donald W. Smythe Military History Award. The award is presented to the best student in military history in each class, nominated by history instructors and selected on academic performance. Agbere also completed a Master's of Military Art and Science with his thesis paper, "Critical Thinking and Army Religious Leadership: Challenges and Opportunities."
Agbere's next assignment is in Georgia with the Third Army.