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A Look Back: A Deployed Soldier's Thoughts On Fort Hood Massacre

Jeffrey Ledesma |
November 5, 2010 | 6:30 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

It has been a year since I have even looked back at this initial response to the Fort Hood shooting. In retrospect, I am glad that I and many of my fellow soldiers took the time to breathe and think about what happened--not just with anger and frustration, but with thought and understanding. It is through the most trying of times that we grow and learn more about ourselves and the world around us. So, let us remember the people who lost their lives, the heroes who risk their own to save lives and the men and women who continue to serve despite the emotional and physical dangers that they are faced with each and every day. Below are my thoughts as I wrote them down and ironed them out in Baghdad the day after the Fort Hord shooting on Nov. 5, 2009.

Fort Hood (Courtesy US Army)
Fort Hood (Courtesy US Army)
The traumatic events that unfolded at the central-Texas military base Thursday is rightly being branded the Fort Hood Massacre. With 13 people dead and dozens wounded, it’s the worst mass shooting at a U.S. military base in history.

As a deployed Soldier in Iraq, one who calls “The Great Place” home, I was floored by the horrific shooting spree plastered on every television station and printed on the front pages of every newspaper. No matter where I turned there it was. Eight months ago at the same location, I was going through the Soldier Readiness Program with countless other soldiers – many of whom were preparing to embark on their second, third, fourth or even fifth deployment.

I dreaded the thought of leaving my new family to head off to a combat zone, but it is what we Soldiers sign up for when we raise our right hands.

Then something like this happens. It shatters the belief that our families and friends back home are safe. We like to believe that we are heading off to fight for their freedom, liberty, and safety. As Soldiers, we are trained to stay calm in the most extreme of situations – ambushes, firefights, roadside bombs – but nowhere in our training do we prepare for a scenario like this one.

There are many things that deploying Soldiers put on their to-worry-about lists, but a bullet from a fellow soldier – a psychiatrist, no less – is not one we can imagine; at least not until now. It’s difficult for me to make sense of the constellation of emotions that I know are running rapid in the minds of my battle buddies, but I will try because we must.

Of course, the feelings I have about this tragic event stem from being more than just a soldier: I am also a father, a husband and a minority in America.

I am the father of a little girl named Rumor who’s about to turn two – and I’m scared. Although there are no field manuals on parenting, somehow we are all instilled with the need to shelter our children from outbursts of madness that the world is capable of creating. When you realize that you aren’t able to keep the rose-colored glasses of a child from wilting into ashes, it leaves you stricken with panic.

Eventually, the world will reveal its imperfectness to my daughter. No matter what I say or inevitably do, she will no longer be that little girl running around the house oblivious to the cares of this world. The Fort Hood Massacre, hitting so close to home, can make the most tolerant human feel a bit jaded.

I am Deborah’s backbone and she is mine. My wife is a strong woman and who has everything under control back home. Nonetheless, I cannot help but feel powerless being miles away and oceans apart. I cannot whisper that everything is going to be OK. I cannot provide a shoulder of comfort just in case she needs it, and that brings on a helpless feeling.

Although I sometimes pretend that sporadic phone calls and a string of e-mails are sufficient, this has reinforced the fact that deployments come with seemingly insurmountable barriers, a metaphoric row of endless T-walls, between husbands and wives – between here and there.

My wife and I agree that what makes this situation so shocking is that Maj. Nidal Hasan, the alleged gunman, was a leader, an officer and psychiatrist who soldiers were supposed to be able to trust. It’s a sense of betrayal that falls over us. He was supposed to lead soldiers, mentor them, and help them through tough times – not hurt them.

My hope is that the heroes who were shot are not reduced to being labeled victims, but celebrated as sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers. The unique individuals their family and friends will always remember them as. My wife, a person who never allows herself to cry, was reading about the people who died that day and started to tear up.

Marikay DeCrow, the wife of Staff Sgt. Justin DeCrow of Plymouth, Ind., affected her. As she sobbed, Marikay told CNN that Justin was a “loving husband and father, and we’re going to miss him.” Simple, even reserved, but powerful. My wife said she couldn’t help but empathizes with Marikay. She envisions her attempting to gain composure, crying with a million things running through her head, and those being the only words to escape from her lips. Is it what she would have said?

As an American I am angry that an endless stream of excuses is being made to explain Maj. Hasan’s actions. Some say he was teased. As an enlisted soldier on his second tour in Iraq, I find it hard to believe that a field-grade officer was being teased any more than the rest of us. Others speculate that he was stressed about his upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.

Although I completely understand the stress of deployments, I expect people to draw a line and ask themselves: what happened to personal responsibility? At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if someone teased him or if he was stressed out. Let’s face facts: stress comes hand in hand with wearing the uniform. It doesn’t overshadow the fact that people who had nothing to do with his deployment are now dead.

Although some of the survivors’ wounds will eventually heal, the emotional scars will not be so easily doctored with a couple stitches or politically sensitive rationalizations.

As a minority I understand what it is like to be different. There have been countless times I’ve been asked if I was this ethnicity or that ethnicity. In my group of friends, I am often the token Asian guy, but I know they’re my brothers in arms. The Army is an organization that prides itself in being tolerant of differences. The military is the one place all members don the same uniform and join a camaraderie unlike any other. I am a soldier - soldiers don’t come in colors other than green and we aren’t issued a uniform religion at basic training. There are Buddhists, Catholics, Muslims and agnostics within our formations.

Army leaders worry that there will be uproar against Muslims in the military, but working with Iraqis on a daily basis I have come to respect their values. Crimes do not favor any specific religion. Despite what some people may fear, I believe soldiers, especially ones who have deployed to the Middle East, will take a step back and see this tragedy for what it is – a rare, but extreme act of violence by a sickened individual.

“As great a tragedy as this was, it would be a shame if our diversity became a causality as well,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, as he warned leaders to be on the lookout for “backlash against some of our Muslim Soldiers.” A person, and not a particular faith, made the decision to commit this crime against the Fort Hood community – and the American people. I stand with the general and the Muslim community in denouncing the use of the Islamic faith as a scapegoat to deal with this tragedy.

However, in retrospect the incident unknowingly inspired greatness. My sister Geraldine was in the emergency room and watched as wounded heroes were rushed through the doors. She watched nurses and doctors covered with blood racing the figurative hour-glass. She described to me as a chaotic blur of heroism that you only expect on television. Without their heroic actions, many more people might have died.

In the face of danger, soldiers and civilians alike reacted with great courage. I am proud of the bravery and compassion that mankind - and, yes, particularly my brothers-in-arms -is capable of displaying, despite what horrors may unfold before us.

Like many former presidents, President Obama was called upon to mend the broken pieces of a national tragedy. The President reminded us that the American spirit is persevering and will continue to beat with a pride that no disaster can defeat. At the heart of every American there is a solid foundation of patriotism that can never be stripped from the fabric of our being.

“When today’s servicemen and women are veterans, and their children have grown,” he said during his Fort Hood address. “It will be said that this generation believed under the most trying of tests; believed in perseverance -- not just when it was easy, but when it was hard.”

Those impactful words echo my belief that even in the darkness of tragedy there is always a hopeful light. Although this tragedy has forced me through a diversity of emotions, one screams volumes above them all. As our commander-in-chief’s inspirational words ignite patriotism, I realize that a strong sense of pride never fails to reveal itself in the darkest of times. When the investigation is finalized and the case is closed, it is pride that screams the loudest.

Reach reporter Jeffrey Ledesma here.



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