PHOENIX, Arizona - While investigators probe for a motive behind the mass
shooting at the Fort Hood military base in Texas last Thursday, in which an
army psychiatrist killed 13 people, military personnel at the base are in shock
as the incident "brings the war home".
"We're all in shock," said Specialist Michael Kern, an active-duty veteran of
the Iraq war, told Inter Press Service (IPS) by telephone. Kern, who is based
at Fort Hood, served in Iraq from March 2007 to March 2008. "Every single
person that I've talked to is in shock," Kern added.
"I'm surprised this hits so close to home, but at the same time, I knew
something like this was going to happen given what else is happening - the war
is coming home, and something needs to be
done. Innocent civilians are being wounded and killed here at home by soldiers,
and this is completely unacceptable," he said.
The gunman, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, entered a Soldier Readiness Center (SRC),
where troops get medical evaluations and complete paperwork just prior to being
deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, and opened fire with two non-military issued
Hasan killed 13 people, 12 of them soldiers, and wounded over 30 others, before
being shot four times by a civilian police officer. Hasan is now in stable
condition in a local hospital, where he is in the custody of military
Colonel John Rossi, a spokesman at Fort Hood, told reporters that Hasan was
"stable and in one of our civilian hospitals". Rossi added, "He's on a
Hasan, 39, joined the army just out of high school. He had counseled wounded
war veterans at Walter Reed Hospital, and was transferred to Fort Hood in
April. He had recently received orders to deploy to Afghanistan.
His cousin, Nader Hasan, has said in media interviews that Hasan was very
reluctant to be deployed overseas and had agitated not to be sent. "We've known
over the last five years that was probably his worst nightmare," he said.
Responding to the allegations in the media that the attack was based on his
Muslim faith, Kern told IPS that he did not know of anyone on the base who felt
this was the case.
"We all wear the same uniform here, it's all green. I've seen the news, but
most folks here assume it's just a soldier that snapped," Kern explained. "I
have not talked to anyone who thinks what he did has anything to do with him
being a Muslim. There are thousands of Muslims serving with dignity in the US
military, in all four branches."
Fort Hood, located in central Texas, is one of the largest US military bases in
the world. It contains up to 50,000 soldiers, and is one of the most heavily
deployed to both occupations.
Tragically, Fort Hood has also born much of the brunt from its heavy
involvement in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Fort Hood soldiers have
accounted for more suicides than any other army post since the US invasion of
Iraq in 2003. This year alone, the base is averaging over 10 suicides each
month - at least 75 have been recorded through July of this year alone.
In a strikingly similar incident on May 11, 2009, a US soldier gunned down five
fellow soldiers at a stress-counseling center at a US base in Baghdad.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US military's Joint Chiefs of Staff,
told reporters at a news conference at the Pentagon at the time that the
shootings had occurred in a place where "individuals were seeking help".
Mullen added, "It does speak to me, though, about the need for us to redouble
our efforts, the concern in terms of dealing with the stress ... It also speaks
to the issue of multiple deployments."
Commenting on the incident in nearly parallel terms, US Secretary of Defense
Robert Gates said that the Pentagon needs to redouble its efforts to relieve
stress caused by repeated deployments in war zones that is further exacerbated
by limited time at home in between deployments.
The condition described by Mullen and Gates is what veteran health experts
often refer to as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
While soldiers returning home are routinely involved in shootings, suicide and
other forms of self-destructive violent behaviors as a direct result of their
experiences in Iraq, we have yet to see an event of this magnitude on a base in
To many, the shocking story of a soldier killing five of his comrades did not
come as a surprise considering that the military has, for years now, been
sending troops with untreated PTSD back into the US occupations of Iraq and
According to an Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center analysis, reported in
the Denver Post in August 2008, more than "43,000 service members - two-thirds
of them in the army or army reserve - were classified as non-deployable for
medical reasons three months before they deployed" to Iraq.
In April 2008, the Rand Corporation released a stunning report revealing that,
"Nearly 20% of military service members who have returned from Iraq and
Afghanistan - 300,000 in all - report symptoms of post-traumatic stress
disorder or major depression, yet only slightly more than half have sought
President Barack Obama, speaking during an event at the Department of the
Interior in Washington, said that the mass shooting at Fort Hood was a
"horrific outburst of violence". He added: "It is horrifying that they [US
soldiers] should come under fire at an army base on American soil."
Victor Agosto, an Iraq war veteran who was discharged from the military after
publicly refusing to deploy to Afghanistan, has had first-hand experience with
the SRC at Fort Hood, where he too was based.
"I knew there would be a confrontation when I was there, because the only
reason to do that process is to deploy," Agosto, speaking to IPS near Fort
Agosto was court-martialed for refusing an order to go to the SRC to prepare to
deploy to Afghanistan.
"I was court-martialed for refusing the order to SRC in that very same
building. I didn't enter the building, but I didn't go in because I was
refusing the process," Agosto continued. "It's a pretty important place in my
life, so it's interesting to me that this happened there."