Today, what would have been an otherwise relatively-slow news day was turned on its head. One shooter, possibly more, attacked soldiers and civilians at Fort Hood, Texas. As of right now (5:46 pm Central), twelve are dead, and 31 are injured.
UPDATE 8:27 PM Central Time: Earlier media reports (and thus my earlier statement) saying that the suspect is dead are incorrect according to General Robert Cone, commanding general of Fort Hood. He is actually in custody and is expected to survive. Apparently, he was only wounded.
Most disturbing, the gunman is not a random criminal, not a terrorist (at least, not according to the information currently available), but a Major in the United States Army. This is a classic case of where more information does not necessarily equate to a clearer picture of the incident. For me, the more information that comes out, the less the incident makes sense; eventually, I am sure, there will be a definitive clear narrative and explanation for what happened, but as of now, it is difficult to come up with one.
A few minutes ago, details emerged that Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the gunman, worked as an Army psychologist and his victims were scheduled to be deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan soon. Initially, reports suggested that he, too, was supposed to deploy, but with the conflicting report from the Marine Corps Times that he was recently transferred from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in order to work with soldiers at Fort Hood, I am not sure which is true. It is possible that the truth is a combination of the two, but the specifics are not entirely relevant, except for the eventual need to determine his motive.
The question now is, how could this happen, and on a major military base, of all places? I am sure the military will be asking that for the next several weeks; the answer is not as clean-cut as the existence of weapons on military bases, as the military predictably has strict controls on them. Fort Hood is also home to a facility that helps returning veterans deal with the stress of readjusting to civilian life; Major Hasan was most likely transferred to the base to work in this facility. However, the attacks were on troops leaving for the wars, not returning from them. I am not going to delve into the criminal’s mind, as the criminal mind must be very disturbed to do something like this. In addition, every military base has a manned guard post at all entrances. I am naturally unaware of how this security works for the people living or working on the base, but to me, it seems that aside from flashing his ID and automatically getting waved through the gate, there is no way that Major Hasan could have gotten the weapon and ammunition onto the base.
It seems more likely that Fort Hood has an unresolved issue relating either to security or the way it treats its personnel. In fact, as the Austin American-Statesman reports, this is not the first attack in recent memory; there was one a little over a year ago. In addition, a CNN report from a while back reports on a memo circulating around the highest levels of the national chain of command, specifically President Obama, Secretary of Defense Gates, and their advisers, that there are problems at Fort Hood with regard to treatment of the soldiers. Specifically, the memo raises the point that the facility to help deal with soldiers’ readjustment to civilian life is understaffed and can only treat a few people at a time. In addition, quoting directly from the article, “[wounded veterans] were stigmatized and treated as lesser Soldiers for being wounded, ill, or injured.” It is possible that Major Hasan was among those transferred to increase the Center’s ability to treat soldiers, though the article was written four months ago, and there is little indication if things have changed. What is evident is that there needs to be a change in culture in the military. The lack of a concrete support system for veterans within the military is simply inexcusable; without it, we will run the risk of more of these incidents. In addition, we need to make sure this support system extends to the people who work with the soldiers, to ensure that they aren’t overly affected by their patients’ experiences. Simply put, the way our government has treated veterans of the War on Terror is atrocious; changes need to be made, and they need to be made now.
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