On Thursday afternoon at around 1 PM CST at Fort Hood, Texas, there was a tragedy involving an Army major opening fire on fellow soldiers. The result was that 12 soldiers died and 28 were wounded. I can relate to this incident because I spent 8 years in the US Army. I don’t have a degree in Military Science. I was just a soldier, a Sergeant, but something like this really hits home for me, because I spent 8 years of my life living through the Army experience. It wasn’t all good, but it wasn’t all bad either, and what I miss most about it is the people. And, the people are who suffered in this tragedy, so after reading the news articles and watching some of the videos, I can’t help but wonder what happened. I didn’t get along with everyone I served with. In fact, I had a serious dislike for some of those bastards, but there was never a day where I’d have chosen an outsider over another soldier, for whatever reason. It may sound cheesy, or like some line from a movie, but you do form a bond with each other and on some level you feel like you belong.
Most of the reports indicate that the shooting took place in the Soldier Readiness Center on Fort Hood. Just to clarify what that means, it’s a place where soldiers go to verify paperwork and ensure medical readiness prior to and after deploying. I’ve been through one on two occasions. I can’t remember every step, but there are medical checks including verifying whether or not you’re current on vaccinations, audiograms, and getting your eyes checked, as well as paperwork checks to make sure your last will and testament are complete and up to date. You can also have powers-of-attorney made to allow family members to handle your business for you while you’re gone. Typically, whole units at a time, and usually more, will go through these checks at once, for the sake of ensuring it gets done and everyone gets processed. It’s a really busy place with a lot of ‘stations’. It’s crowded, chaotic, and I can very easily see an incident happening in one area of an SRC without the rest of the poeople there being immediately aware.
The shooter in this incident, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, was a mental health professional, whose job was to help soldiers returning from deployments deal with post traumatic stress syndrome. Every day he listened to soldiers tell him about their troubles, about the things they’d done and seen, and about how they couldn’t adjust to ‘regular’ life again. This is a pretty serious issue in the Army. The first time I came back from a deployment, when I was returning from Iraq, there wasn’t any sort of training about dealing with these kinds of issues. As the war dragged on, though, the Army recognized the problem and addressed it by providing training before and after deployments about PTSD. I distinctly remember watching the videos after my second deployment and thinking they were cheesy, but they addressed a serious problem. In addition to these videos, soldiers who self-reported problems could receive additional therapy and consultation, which is what I assume Major Hasan’s job entailed. With Major Hasan already dealing with a lot of internal struggles about the possibility of having to confront other Muslims in combat, hearing these details daily must have piled on the stress tremendously.
I spent some time in Iraq during 2003, when the initial wave of US troops entered the country. I was in Kuwait when the war started on a training deployment and our unit was pushed forward to provide logistics and repair support. Ya, I wasn’t in a combat unit. I was a supply specialist. Most of my duties involved warehousing operations, logistics convoys and vehicle recovery operations, since I was certified to operate the large forklifts sometimes required to flip over and lift vehicles, or pieces of vehicles onto trailers. I didn’t see much of any combat. I was only fired on once during the time I was there. I did see the results of combat though. It wasn’t pretty. Still, living in the middle of a foreign country where every person you encounter could potentially end your life, going to sleep each night wondering if a mortar would land in your tent and you’d never wake up again… Well, it was stressful. I still think about it sometimes.
I can only imagine the kind of mental problems combat troops come home with. I really felt for those guys. Sometimes they would come through our camp in Bradley Fighting Vehicles or M1 Abrahms tanks, and I would mentally wish them luck as they rolled by. I knew I had it easier than they did. I remember one time I was on guard duty at a checkpoint and a Bradley (if I remember right) stopped and the hatch popped up. The driver offered me 20 bucks for a pack of smokes. The American money we brought with us didn’t mean much out there. I tossed the guy my pack and told him to keep it. It was the least I could do. I never even knew the guy’s name, or whether he’s still alive today. Just the same, some of the chopper pilots running supplies up from Kuwait would give us cartons of cigarettes, because they knew we didn’t have a way to get any. It’s the small things that reminded us that we were all in the same boat, that we were part of a larger family, and we were taking care of each other as best we could.
So, it really disturbed me to find out that a solider, a Major no less, opened fire on fellow soldiers. It’s disgusting to me that soldiers died on a military base in the US, under fire, without a chance to defend themselves because one guy couldn’t handle the pressure. These are people that, for whatever reason, made an oath to defend the country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Who could’ve guessed that the domestic enemy would be one of their own, a person who had been entrusted with the rank of Major and also entrusted with the mental health of soldiers returning from combat. Perhaps it’s unreasonable, but officers, at least those that get promoted to Captain and above, are supposed to be the kind of guys you should emulate. They’re supposed to be the ones who have things under control and set the example for the troops under their command. They’re held to a higher standard. Perhaps that was part of the problem though. Enlisted soldiers or the ranks E-6 (Staff Sergeant) and below are pushed through all of the hoops and are scrutinized carefully. I have no clue, but I assume the same is true for the officer ranks of Captain and below. Once you get above those points, though, you’re golden and are often able to excuse yourself from training or appointments. You get away with more and are therefore more likely to fall through the cracks if you have a problem. I think people forget that they’re still human despite their rank.
The reports I’ve read say that Major Hasan was a Muslim, and that he’d been harassed by other soldiers because of his religion ever after the September 11th incident. They also said that he had tried to leave military service but hadn’t been successful. I really don’t understand that part. What contract had he signed that required him to stay in for 8 years past the time when he first expressed the desire to resign? Some officers have to stay in for a term of four years, to pay back college loans. Beyond that, I believe they can tender their resignation at their convenience, barring the setting of a “stop-loss” just prior to their unit deploying. If this guy was really serious about getting out of the military he had ample time to make it happen. Maybe he thought he could handle it. Maybe he thought he could deal with the occasional taunting. Maybe he thought he’d found a safe spot where he wouldn’t get deployed. Prior to my completing my contract and leaving the military, a lot of folks were very interested in finding out which bases had the lowest deployment rates and then finding ways to get assigned there. Maybe he got comfortable, and then was suddenly presented with orders to be deployed to the Middle East.
I remember when I got deployed to Kuwait the first and second time, and was informed that we would be moving forward to Iraq during the first deployment. You really have no choice but to accept it. You might not want to go, but no one does. You see, when you get orders like that you either go, or you go AWOL. When you go AWOL you can’t work because the IRS will report you to the military and you’ll be picked up by Military Police. When you get orders, you have to suck it up and push forward with the mission until the mission is done. That doesn’t mean you don’t bitch and moan about it along the way, but you don’t go apeshit and kill your buddies either. In short, when you get orders you’re locked in. I was actually extended past my contract date for a deployment. My discharge paperwork reads “extended XXX days for the convenience of the government.” So ya, there’s really no way out, even if your discharge date was close at hand. He was locked in. I imagine he must have tried to fight the deployment, possibly using his rank to try to sway someone into reassigning him elsewhere, but it must have failed, and after failing, he must have felt trapped.
This guy had some serious personal conflicts with the deployment. From what I gather he seems to have been very conflicted about the potential of having to kill other Muslims. It wouldn’t be likely, given that he was a health care professional, but it was possible. Even if he had never pulled the trigger he might have felt as if he were an accomplice to the murder of other Muslims, depending on his view of the ‘rightness’ or legality of the war. Feeling trapped, feeling conflicted about killing other Muslims, and feeling afraid of what might happened based on the stories he was told by his patients, it must have caused him to snap.
He apparently disposed of his personal belongings prior to going in to work Thursday morning. It seems as though he had reached the decision much in advance of his actions. What I wonder is why did he choose a path of violence? He could have simply refused to go and accepted the consequences. It might have resulted in his being jailed and losing his rank, but isn’t that a better option than killing your comrades, possibly dying, and swaying public opinion of Muslims into a much worse light than they already are? Let’s face it. Most Americans see Muslims as fear mongering, hate filled people who are all potential terrorists that are not to be trusted. Some Americans even feel that all Arabs and/or Muslims in the US should be rounded up into internment camps like the Japanese-Americans were during World War II. His actions have definitely not helped the situation any. The weirdest part is that the morning before he did this, he handed out copies of the Koran to his neighbors. What a way to advertise! “What’s up guys! Here, have a copy of the Koran. It’s great and will help you lead peaceful lives devoted to Allah. Now, pardon me. I have a readiness center to shoot up, Praise Allah!” I just don’t see this going over too well. If things were bad for Muslims in the US, and Muslims in the Army specifically, it’s only going to get worse now. Oh, and after that he went to his regular convenience store and bought breakfast and had a chat with the store owner. I guess he wasn’t too disturbed by what he was about to do.
Almost as disturbing as the tragedy itself are some of the reactions of people on the Internet. Mostly people are posting out of ignorance, but some people are outright lauding this man’s actions. It’s infuriating. What people fail to realize is that the soldiers themselves shouldn’t be blamed for the actions of the government. I’m sure there are some nutballs in the Army that can’t wait to go to combat, but for the most part soldiers are just like everyone else. They’re normal folks that go to work during the day, then go home at night to their families, or to their computers and XBOXs. They’re just people who got a job they could do to put food on the table for themselves or their family. Some soldiers don’t even want to be in the Army at all and are just doing service to pay off loans or save up money so they can do something else. Still, they’re all bound by contracts and they can’t just quit. And, they all have to follow orders or risk going to jail, which could put their families in jeopardy and sacrifice their future careers. I just wish people would ask questions and think a bit before blurting out ridiculous statements about soldiers. It’s also a bit ridiculous that some people have asked why Majar Hasan was able to kill and wound so many people before the police showed up. A military post in the US is like a town. There aren’t tanks rolling down the streets, or armed soldiers on every corner. There are no choppers flying through the air monitoring the situation. The firearms are all locked up in armories and require a unit commander’s approval to be released for cleaning or use at a range for annual qualification (which makes me wonder how Major Hasan had those two pistols in the first place). There are usually a mix of military police officers and contracted civilians. Response time for law enforcement on a military base is generally the same as or a bit better than that in a regular town.
The whole situation is disgusting. I kinda understand where the guy was coming from, but I just can’t understand what he was thinking when he decided that killing a bunch of people was the way to solve his problem. I’m actually glad Major Hasan is alive. Now he can stand trial for what he’s done. And, after all that shame, embarrassment and knowing that he’s made the US a worse place for Muslims, I hope they hang his ass.
(Photos snagged from CNN)