By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Nov. 07, 2009) -- After a moment of silence for those killed in the shootings Nov. 5, at Fort Hood, Texas, Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Chief of Staff of the Army George W. Casey Jr. addressed Soldiers, family members and the press.
"I tell you candidly, this was a kick in the gut -- not only for the Fort Hood community, but also for the entire Army," Casey said during the press conference Nov. 6, at Fort Hood.
At about 1:30 p.m., Nov. 5, Maj. Hasan Nidal Malik, an Army psychiatrist, allegedly fired shots into the Soldiers Readiness Processing Center on Fort Hood. The shooting resulted in 13 dead and some 30 others injured. Most of the casualties were Soldiers preparing for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.
"This is a time for the Army family to stand together, this is a time for 'Army Strong' to mean what it says -- and this is a time to know that we are working every moment to ensure that their safety and security is met to the highest possible degree," McHugh said.
McHugh, Casey and Casey's wife spent the day at Fort Hood. The three visited the SRP center where the shooting occurred, visited with law enforcement officials investigating the incident, and met with doctors at the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center to discuss the status of those injured. They also met with members of the 36h Engineer Brigade in a chapel on base. Members of the unit were victims of the shooting.
"That's a group of Soldiers that had an extraordinarily tough day amongst so many Soldiers who had a tough day," said McHugh of the unit. Within the 36th, four were killed and 11 were wounded.
"We tried to do our best to try to talk about how the Army family will stand with them," McHugh said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with those of the fallen."
The general relayed anecdotes he'd heard regarding the tragedy. One story, for instance, involved medics attending a graduation ceremony in a building near where the shooting occurred. Those medics responded to the sounds of the gunfire so they could help those in need.
Another story involved a young private who had been nearby in his truck. Upon hearing the gunshots, he enlisted the aid of friends and brought four of the wounded to the hospital emergency room.
"The stories of courage and heroism I heard today make me proud to be a leader of this great Army," Casey said. "I am very proud, not only of the men and women here at Fort Hood, but of our whole Army. We take care of our own, we will grieve as a family, and we will maintain our focus on our missions around the world."
Both Casey and McHugh discussed Army efforts to better understand and better deal with post traumatic stress disorder, suicide, and domestic violence. The Army has commissioned a study on the causes of suicide among Soldiers, for instance. And in October, it kicked off the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, which is designed to help Soldiers develop mental strength in the way they develop physical strength.
Asked about his concerns for a potential backlash against Muslim Soldiers serving in the Army now -- based on the Muslim background of the alleged shooter -- Casey said he's aware that could be a problem and he's asked commanders to ask Soldiers to not draw conclusions.
"I wouldn't say I fear it, but one of the reasons I told our leaders to keep their people informed and not rush to judgment or speculate until the investigation comes out, is I do worry slightly about a potential backlash, and we have to be concerned about that," he said.