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Remembering Fort Hood

November 5, 2010

The American flag on Fort Hood, Texas, rests at half-staff on Nov. 10, 2009, during a memorial ceremony honoring the victims of the Nov. 5, shooting rampage.

Our nation’s memory has a definite case of Alzheimer’s. As a multi-tasking member of the millennial generation, perhaps I only have myself to blame, but the milestones and commemorations our grandparent’s generation did so well seem largely lost. We’re all too eager to forget the past, especially moments of tragedy. Perhaps psychology and self-esteem experts are to blame for somehow convincing us that it’s better to focus on the positive than to cling to fear.

Whatever the cause I want to challenge you to take a moment and remember what happened this day one year ago. As Soldiers went about a day at home on Fort Hood, Texas, in what should have been a routine moment between deployments and exercises, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a radical muslim serving in our military, gunned down 12 Soldiers, one Army civilian and one unborn child.

Fort Hood strikes me as a particularly sad moment for our Army. Not just because it happened at home, at a time when our Soldiers should expect to be safe. Not just because it was perpetrated by “one of our own”  – someone acting under the guise of a service member and allowed by those in authority to be in that position. Not just because it seems so long forgotten, and that even as the trial goes forward you can sense the apathy toward the extremists in our midst. Not just because I was at the Pentagon and studied each moment as it unfolded. I find Fort Hood to be an especially tragic moment for our military because the tragedy just seems to pile up layer on layer, building a tower of missteps and mistakes that Uncle Sam himself looms under.

That our nation is under the constant weight of terrorist threats should come as no surprise. Just this week we heard of explosives found in cargo planes headed to Chicago. And as hard as it is to believe by the lack of media coverage, we still have thousands of troops putting their lives on the line to fight terrorism in places in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those deployments won’t continue because our service members love the sunny conditions and sand of the Middle East, they deploy and spend months away from their families because there are legitimate threats to our country and our way of life. The threat of Muslim extremism weighs heavily upon the overburdened shoulders of our men and women in uniform, and we shouldn’t let a day go by when we don’t remember that.

I realize that many (including our military establishment) don’t consider Fort Hood to be an act of terrorism (although the academic definition of terrorism, or lack thereof, is a completely separate issue itself). In a very literal sense I can understand that – Hasan does not appear to have been acting as a part of a broader plot, and perhaps his correspondence with known terrorists were for “research” purposes. But there should be no doubt that his actions were a result of extremism and no argument that Hasans acts were the acts of a terrorist in our midst. It’s not surprising that a bureaucracy focuses so much on semantics (paperwork keeps thousands employed in this city), but it’s not acceptable given the cost of life that occurred Nov. 5, 2009.

Our Soldiers are willing to give their lives for their country. They don’t expect to have to do it while sitting on post, waiting for a medical exam. Among the jarring testimony that has come out of the preliminary hearing of Hasan is the fact that some Soldiers believed it was a routine training exercise – until they looked down and felt their own blood. And as a woman with an eight month old child being knit inside her I can only imagine the pain of Pvt. Francheska Velez, one of the victims who according to witnesses (witnesses left with memories difficult even for a member of the military to face), lay on the ground screaming ‘my baby, my baby’ after Hasan shot her in the stomach.

I don’t enjoy remembering Fort Hood. But for all those with memories they are certain never to forget and with many of the victims who survived spending this anniversary deployed, I consider it only my most basic tribute to stop and think about those who have given so much, sacrificed so much, and suffered so much. We owe it to them to offer a prayer of tribute and of thanks, and to increase our resolve and understanding of exactly what we are up against in what is an ongoing war on terrorism – terrorism that our Soldiers battle overseas and terrorism that our military bureaucracy must battle better within its own ranks.

I haven’t noticed much coverage of the Fort Hood shootings, or many articles of remembrance over the past week. I understand an important election just happened, but let’s not let that be an excuse to for us to forget Fort Hood. Let’s resolve our commitment to our service members – to their support, their care and their safety at home.

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