I was shocked when a friend had posted to my wall about another shooting on Fort Hood Texas. The gamut of emotions that ran through me in that moment are difficult to describe. I was angry, sad, shocked, scared for the people there, confused, how could it happen AGAIN!?
We were stationed at Fort Hood during the November 2009 shooting; what I personally believe was an act of terrorism, not work place violence. My youngest brother Morgan, who is now serving in the US Army at Fort Riley Kansas was living with us in Texas during this time. We were at home, FOX news on in the background when we heard those words, “shooting on Fort Hood” and it took a moment before it could digest what was said, to comprehend the gravity of those words. My husband was at work and there were no details as to who, what, where or why; only that it was an active shooting scene. I tried to call my husband, but there was no answer. As you may imagine, like in other situations the phone lines were jammed up. There is so much fear in those moments until I could actually hear his voice. While speaking to him I had no idea where he was, but I knew he was alive. He was asking me for details, and that let me know he was most likely not at his desk. This wasn’t an immediate sigh of relief because the reports were on the number wounded and killed, but they were still reporting on “possibly multiple shooters”. Anyone who has been to, or is familiar with Fort Hood usually knows this base is enormous. Situated in both Bell and Coryell counties and occupies about 335 square miles, it’s the size of a small city. When they talked about looking for active shooters on this post, my mind just goes wild thinking of the gravity of this task, the installation is so large. I talked to Doug several times giving him any information that I was getting from the news. In this social media influx of information society we live in, I know it has to be taken with a “grain of salt”. Post is locked down and I know two things, he is not coming home anytime soon and “The Great Place” will forever be changed.
When you enter the gates on Fort Hood, show your ID and have your stickers checked, you hear the words “Welcome to the Great Place”. It took a while before the guards spoke those words after the 2009 shooting,it was like any post, ID check and thank you ma’am. I still get choked up when I think of how things can change in an instant. I’m not naive, the world is not a safe place, but when you are on a military installation, surrounded by MP’s and service members who have sacrificed to keep us safe at home and abroad, there’s an unspoken sense of security. A terroristic coward changed that in 2009.
In talking to my husband, he didn’t share his location and I figured that was for his security or my peace of mind. Either way, I was able to talk to him, I took what I could get. I knew there were other families that did not get that peace of mind. I knew he had a graduation ceremony that afternoon, but typically I don’t ask for details. When the reports came out as the day continued that the shooting had taken place at the Soldier Readiness Processing site (SRP), I felt myself go numb knowing that Doug had been there the week before, a wave of sickness and relief flooded through me. My mind flashed through the “what-if’s”. It felt like an eternity before they had details of only one shooter, and the base was eventually taken off lockdown. There was an extraordinary relief for many people waiting to reunite with their families, either being allowed off post, or in many cases back on post.
Seeing my husband come home from numerous deployments is a feeling that is difficult to put into words, it is emotionally draining seeing that person again, knowing they have made it home. I am always grateful God has allowed him to make it home safely. Seeing him come home that night, I felt that same wave of emotions. What I didn’t know was that he was at a theater next door to the SRP site. The Howze theater was the location of the aforementioned graduation ceremony. He had heard the gunshots, and was forcing the attendees into the theater, pushing them through the doors. When I found out where he was, I was even more grateful to have him home that night, knowing I would wake up with him in the morning. Saddened for those that would not be experiencing that feeling.
Days turn into weeks and months and the investigation continues, you may go on post, but for sometime we did not hear those words, “Welcome to the Great Place”. It was a constant reminder of what had happened and would bring tears to my eyes. Anytime the shooting was talked about on the news, I would have a visceral response recalling that day, how it changed where we were stationed. So when I saw my friend had posted to my wall that there was another shooting on Hood, all I wanted to do was hear some kind of information, some details. I wouldn’t say I relived that day, but the feeling was surreal, sitting in another home, another duty station, glued to the television, sad.
The citizens of this country who stand up to sacrifice their lives are often not single, they come with dependents, like myself. Their service alters all the lives in the short and long-term. We stand side by side with those we love as they deploy and pray for their safety, know one expects their loved one to go on post to work, and be shot at. We have to make changes to our military to strengthen them at home and abroad. These changes need to come by protecting the service members, their families, and the communities they become part of. Does everyone need to be armed on a military installation? No, I don’t think so, but I do think that there should be anonymous soldiers armed, so when these events occur again, we may be more prepared that fewer, or preferably no lives are lost.
In the aftermath of April 2014 shooting, I am flooded with emotions. Being a suicide attempt survivor, I see the world differently now. Some of those differences are for the better, and I have compassion for people who suffer with mental disease. I worry the people who serve our country, and their families are not receiving the mental help they may need and deserve. A service member may be afraid to say they suffer for fear of the repercussions of either being medically discharged or treated differently by the command. For myself, as a family member who attempted suicide, I was afraid my husbands command would find out and subsequently create a stain on his career.
We’ve been informed that SPC Ivan Lopez was being treated for depression, and most likely a variety of other mental issues and I don’t know details, but I cannot help but speculate if this could have been avoided. Had he been getting proper treatment? Had he been honest with his command and the medical team treating him? As I listened to interviews with neighbors of how he was “normal” I have to scoff at the idea. For all purposes people thought I was, and am “normal”. Before and after my suicide attempt no one knows the extent of the demons I battle. There are a lot of unknowns right now, and the focus needs to be on those killed, wounded and recovering along with their families. The Killeen and surrounding community that absolutely loves and supports the troops of Fort Hood is like no other duty station I have experienced, they need support and prayers during this difficult time.
There has to be more honest dialogue to help the people who come home from deployments carrying mental wounds. I can’t say if he had them before or they are caused by his time in service, but I cannot help but think of how things could have had a different outcome. Did he point that gun and take his life because he didn’t want to face the charges for what he had done, or was it an end game because he wanted to end his life anyway? I don’t know the answer, we may never know all the details. I hope those who lobby for change can use this awful experience to revise protocols and help others moving forward.
In closing, I do not condone or excuse the behavior, but I do acknowledge that mental disease is a condition that plagues “normal” people that we interact with on a daily basis, and I pray that we can amend how the condition and the person is treated, medically and emotionally as we move forward.
My opinion is my own, and in no way reflects my husband’s position from a personal or professional aspect.