Tragedy at Ft. Hood
America's military family suffered a great tragedy at Ft. Hood, Texas, on Thursday (November 5, 2009) as one of its own, an Army psychiatrist, opened fire in a room crowded with as many as 300 soldiers preparing for deployment. His rampage, the worst ever recorded on a U.S. military base, left 13 dead and another 30 wounded, before the gunman was felled by civilian police Sgt. Kimberly Munley, who continued firing despite being wounded.
Munley, a mother of two daughters and a former soldier herself, underwent surgery for her wounds and is expected to make a complete recovery. She is a firearms instructor and a member of the SWAT team. Witnesses reported she didn't hesitate to confront the shooter and engage him, as he was preparing to shoot one of his victims for a second time. Typical procedure in such a situation would have been to wait for backup, but Munley's quick actions no doubt saved lives. At just 5'2", she's being hailed as a very large hero.
Fort Hood, just outside Killeen, Texas, is the largest U.S. military base and has suffered more combat losses than any other base since the War on Terror began, following the attacks on America of September 11, 2001.
Included among the victims were Francheska Velez, a 21-year-old soldier who returned from Iraq three days earlier because she was pregnant. She was in the building completing medical paperwork related to her pregnancy before heading home to Chicago. Another was 19-year-old PFC Aaron Nemelka, who joined the Army last year rather than going on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a psychiatrist specializing in combat stress, calmly stood up and shouted "Allahu Akhbar!" (Allah is greater) before opening fire in the crowded room with an FN Herstal 5.7x28mm semi-automatic pistol which he purchased legally at a local Killeen gun shop in August.
The weapon can hold 20 or up to 30 rounds in an extended clip, which would explain why Hasan was able to fire so many times in such a short span of time. It is known among law enforcement personnel as a "cop killer" because its rounds can pierce Kevlar body armor. The armor-piercing variation of the ammunition is only available to law enforcement and military customers. A .357 Magnum Smith & Wesson revolver was also found with him at the scene, but it is unclear whether that weapon was used during the rampage.
Witnesses said that Hasan was shooting people more than once if possible, so it seems clear that his intent was to kill as many as he could.
Hasan was a devout Muslim, born in America to Palestinian parents, both of whom are deceased. He graduated from the military's medical school, the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, in 2001. For six years before reporting for duty at Fort Hood in July, Hasan completed and intership, residency and a fellowship in disaster and preventive psychiatry. He was specially trained in combat stress, and was fighting orders to deploy to Afghanistan later this month where he would counsel soldiers dealing with the stress of combat.
While at Walter Reed, he required counseling and extra supervision, and reportedly was cautioned against proselytizing about his Muslim faith to his patients. Despite a low performance review, he was promoted to major earlier this year.
Other soldiers said he was opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, believing them to be wars against Islam. He reportedly said he would serve in Afghanistan but not Iraq, but as the time drew nearer for his deployment to Afghanistan later this month, he hired an attorney to help him get out of the military. According to a relative, Hasan had even offered to repay the cost of his medical training in order to be discharged.
Early reports wondered if perhaps Hasan were simply a soldier who snapped under the stress of an upcoming deployment. His days were filled with listening to other soldiers relay their stories of the horrors of war they had witnessed.
But later reports paint a different picture. Hasan's classmates at USUHS indicated he told them he was "a Muslim first and an American second." At a mosque he attended in Silver Spring, Maryland, he completed a form for a program seeking to find a spouse through the mosque, listing his birthplace as Arlington, Virginia, and his nationality as Palestinian.
Hasan came to the attention of federal agents about six months ago, when they discovered internet postings made under the name Nidal Hasan about suicide bombings and other threats. The posts likened suicide bombers to soldiers who throw themselves on a live grenade to save the lives of fellow soldiers. It had not yet been confirmed that Hasan was the author of the posts, but federal authorities seized his computer on Friday during a search of his apartment.
Just before Thursday's rampage, Hasan was giving away his furniture and other belongings (including copies of the Quran) to neighbors, telling them he was deploying Friday. He gave the owner of his apartment complex, whose native language is Spanish, a Spanish-language version of the Quran. He left voice mail for a next-door neighbor, telling him it had been great knowing him. Perhaps the most telling information that has come to light is that Hasan had given his apartment manager two weeks' notice that he was moving out this week.
The emerging details are beginning to paint a picture of a planned attack as opposed to a soldier who suddenly snapped.
Hasan was wounded during the shootout with law enforcement officers, but survived. Late Friday, he was transferred to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where he was reportedly in stable condition in the intensive care unit. The Associate Press is reporting that he is paralyzed as a result of his injuries, in a coma and on a ventilator.
Many are hoping he will recover enough to answer the question that haunts everyone - "Why?"
President Obama ordered flags to be flown at half-staff through Veterans Day in honor of the victims of this tragedy at Ft. Hood.
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