“The Great Place.”
Wednesday afternoon, 02 April 2014, exactly 16:49. The Battalion XO (executive officer) is jolting up and down the stairs letting everyone know we are now on lock down and on order to stay indoors until further notice. The Command Sergeant Major’s voice thunders out of the doorways into the courtyard toward soldiers who are walking around, Get inside! Get inside right now!!
I immediately send my mom a text message:
I miss you!! Say a prayer for me please
I didn’t want to send my mom any details via text because I didn’t want her to worry too much. But we had no idea on the seriousness of the “lock down” until our family members and friends began texting and calling us informing us about the shooting. It was already on the news!
Without mentioning which unit I’m in, our headquarters is located on 67th Street. Little do we know, a shooting is going on over on 72nd Street, which is one block over. And it isn’t until 2045 that we are released to go home.
According to news sources, the shooter was SPC Ivan Lopez who was assigned to 13th Sustainment Command and was undergoing psychiatric evaluation and medical treatment for anxiety and depression. Before shooting himself, he shot and killed four people and injured 12 others. It was only about five years ago when Fort Hood experienced a fatal shooting, 05 November 2009, when MAJ Nidal Hasan shot and killed 13 people and injured over 30 others.
This current tragic event has posed several questions and concerns for Fort Hood, which is known as “The Great Place.”
Why was Fort Hood nicknamed “The Great Place” anyway? At almost 215,000 acres, it is the largest U.S. Army base. Quality of life is post’s top priority as far as housing, health care, soldier support, and recreation go. The base is well-known for its top-notch mission and defense training. Fort Hood and the surrounding area are also very proud of their quality school system. In addition, its location in Central Texas make for enjoyment for those who favor extremely warm weather.
I, personally, have been stationed at Fort Hood for almost a year and so far have no complaints about the base. I have never felt as if my safety, health, or happiness was threatened. I am fully aware of resources and assistance that I can receive if I am ever in need, whether it be financially, spiritually, physcially, mentally. In hazardous situations — such as the tragedy that happened yesterday, myself and my battle buddies feel safe and we trust our chain of command to take the appropriate measures to ensure our safety and wellness. (The military police even arrived on the scene in half the average response time.) However, I do understand that the work and living situations may be different for other individual that work and/or live here at Fort Hood…
So what can be done to improve the esprit de corps for everyone at Hood? How can we mend the break in our sense of safety? What can be done to give peace to the families abroad that have loved ones stationed here? How can we put the incoming soldiers at ease upon their new assignment to Fort Hood? Is it possible that Fort Hood can change its reputation? How can we prove that Fort Hood really is “The Great Place?”
UNIT LEVEL MORALE:
* Pay closer attention to soldier’s moods, attitudes, actions, and reactions. Don’t take anything too lightly. Know your soldiers and be aware of any situation that may be affecting them mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
* Realize that the work environment directly affects soldiers. Not all soldiers deal with certain situations the same way. Be observant of your soldiers in your shop.
* Keep your eyes and ears open for possible hazing, teasing, and harrassment of any sort. Intervene.
* The core of esprit de corps is loyalty, motivation, and trust. Do your soldiers trust you? Do you motivate your soldiers? Are you a good role model at all times? Do you lead by example? Are your battle buddies also leading by example?
* Understand that esprit de corps is not built in a day.
* Never put the interests of individuals or of the unit over the interests of the Army.
* Stop being lenient when it comes to punishment and the enforcing of standards. Wrong is wrong and can not be justified or overlooked.
* Have formations often — brief your soldiers on the mission of your unit, safety hazards, resources, unit news, etc. We can not take care of our soldiers without educating them and communicating with them. Power Point presentations and emails aren’t always as effective. Let them know what is expected of them on a daily basis.
* Mean what you say. If you tell your soldiers you have an open-door policy and that you are approachable, stick to that. Be sincere in your leadership.
* Empower and encourage your soldiers to seek help when they think they need it. Don’t allow them to feel weak or less of a person for needing help.
* Make sure your soldiers are aware of resources. There is assistance for EVERY single need! Suicide prevention, religious services, financial help, counseling, furthering education, substance abuse, motorcycle safety, self-defense classes, sexual assault and awareness, just to name a “few.”
* Discuss risk management. Give examples of hazards and tell your war stories. Nothing gives junior soldiers a better idea of real-life situations than good ol’ deployment stories (besides, of course, being in a real-life situation themselves). Make sure your soldiers are trained and knowledgable.
* Be available. Nothing is worse than a soldier in need in the middle of the night and his or her NCO has their phone on silent or vibrate. I have not personally experienced this. But I find comfort in knowing my chain of command is only a phone call away whenever I may need them.
* Family Readiness Groups must be active and communicable to spouses and other relatives. Use email, text alerts, and social media to stay in contact with them. Let them know about upcoming events, training exercises, and news.
* Keep family members educated in addition to keeping them informed. In other words, advise them on social media etiquette and encourage them to stay as calm/supportive as possible in urgent situations. For example, one spouse posting bad information online about a unit or soldier can cause unnecessary drama.
* Make sure soldiers keep their Emergency Notification forms up-to-date on a regular basis so that family members’ contact information is always accurate!
FORT HOOD’S REPUTATION:
* Fort Hood does not have a “bad” reputation because it is a “bad” place. It has a “negative” reputation right now only because ONE individual SOLDIER made a terrible decision yesterday. It should not be a reflection on his unit nor on the entire base. In addition, authorities did what they were supposed to do and military police responded to the situation immediately in effort to prevent even more lives being taken at the crime scene. But can anything be done in attempt to lighten the mood for the general public?
* Implementation of memorial services/candlelight vigil/memorial structures for the victims of the shooting. Hold fund-raising events in support of the family members that are directly affected.
* Increased implementation of safety briefings and awareness/advertising of on-post support resources.
* Increased military patrol in and around on-post housing and barracks buildings.
* Increased security measures being taken by leadership at ARMS rooms, at weapons ranges, during POV inspections, and during housing inspections.
* Get Fort Hood on national media for something positive…news stories about our heroes, host large charitable events (i.e. concerts, marathons), etc. http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/fort-hood-woman-shooting/2014/04/03/id/563489/
Fort Hood is my very first duty station and it really is a great place to be. I have no doubt about that. I’m originally from Georgia, which is over a 16-hour drive away from here! But I am more than comfortable calling Hood my home-away-from-home. My chain of command and the soldier/family support services here do a wonderful job at providing us with the resources and assistance we need. As far as I’m concerned, Fort Hood is doing what it needs to do in keeping us out of harm’s way.
When I was at basic training, we had the opportunity to fill out a “dream sheet” (which is a form where we can list our top three stateside preferences and top three overseas preferences for duty stations). Fort Hood, TX was the first of my stateside preferences and I have no regrets.
For now, I will continue to pray for the victims of the shooting as well as for the units they belonged to. I wish you all a speedy recovery and hope you continue to have faith. Thank you to those who showed heroism during the shooting. I send my condolences to the families of those who died including the shooter’s relatives. I understand this is a very tough time for everyone, whether directly or indirectly involved. I am not taking this tragic event lightly.
[Photo credits: crime scene photo – SPC Kinnard, skyline photos – SPC Stewart]