Friday, November 5, 2010

Soldiers, civilians honored on Fort Hood anniversary

U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey presented awards of valor at a memorial service recognizing victims and families of those fallen on the one year anniversary of the Ft. Hood attacks in Fort Hood, Texas on November 5, 2010

Until Friday, there only was one outward symbol at Fort Hood of the chaos and carnage that erupted on Nov. 5, 2009. A wreath of flowers hung on the fence that surrounds Building 42003 at the massive Army post in Texas. It was placed there by the widow of one of those who died that day.

Now there is a 6-foot-tall granite memorial, unveiled at a ceremony on the one-year anniversary of the worst massacre ever at a U.S. military installation. Inscribed with the names of the 13 killed when a soldier opened fired on his comrades as they waited to do routine paperwork, the marker has taken its place near the post's other memorials to those who died in war - more than 500 in the past five years.

Sgt. Ericka Escalante, left, prays during an awards ceremony and memorial stone unveiling commemorating the one-year anniversary

"Our home was attacked. . . not in a distant battlefield but right here . . . and American heroes sacrificed their lives," Gen. William Grimsley, Fort Hood's commanding general, told about 1,000 people gathered Friday morning for the ceremony, according to the Associated Press.

He and Army Secretary John McHugh presented awards to more than 50 soldiers and civilians who rushed to aid the wounded. Among them were soldiers who had been shot themselves. Some recently relived the horror, when they testified at a hearing for Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who is charged with multiple counts of murder. Some spent much of the past year in Afghanistan and Iraq, returning a few weeks ago.

"It's a chapter in this Army that no matter how many tears may fall will never, ever be washed away and will be part of our history forever," McHugh said, the wire service reported.

The ceremony was the first event in a weekend of events, including a half-marathon and a rock concert, aimed at helping Fort Hood heal and to give those directly affected some closure.

While military officials kept their remarks focused on sacrifice and resilience, others used the shooting anniversary to renew their criticism of a Defense Department they say still is not adequately alert to extremists developing in its ranks.

Hasan, 40, an Army psychiatrist who alarmed colleagues with talk of whether his patients could be prosecuted for war crimes, sent more than a dozen e-mails in the months before the shooting to radical Muslim cleric Anwar Awlaki, an American citizen now targed by the U.S. for assassination. In online postings, Awlaki praised Hasan for the killing spree, as did al-Qaeda.

The department "still refuses to even use the words 'radical Islam' in their report on the attack or recommendations on how to prevent future attacks," said Rep. John Carter, the Texas Republican whose district includes Fort Hood. "That does not instill confidence in Congress that the DoD is taking the necessary steps to protect our troops."

And Sens. Joseph Lieberman (Conn.-I) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), who head the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said Thursday in a statement that "the attack could have been prevented if the government acted on information in its possession." The two headed a lengthy investigation that included interviews with FBI and military investigators about what was known, or should have been known, about Hasan. They expect to issue a final report as soon as administration and committee officials agree on what portions must remain classified.

Maj. Gen. William F. Grimsley makes remarks during an awards ceremony and memorial stone unveiling commemorating the one-year anniversary of the worst mass shooting on a U.S. military base

"Our report will show that our domestic intelligence system must be strengthened in order to counter the threat of homegrown terrorism, and that our military must have zero tolerance for the expression of violent Islamist extremism in its ranks," the senators said.

Last month, the military issued regulations that require soldiers to now report behavior by comrades that might indicate extremist or terrorist sympathies and directed the Army's head of counterintelligence to maintain a database of such reports.

At Fort Hood, commanders are now directed to ask soldiers about what private weapons they own and to encourage that they register off-post weapons with officials on post. Soldiers who live on the post already are required to register their firearms with the Army. Soldiers are not allowed to carry their personal weapons in garrison or in combat theaters.

Washington Post

No comments: