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REPOST: BZ Founders Reflect on the Anniversary of the 2009 Fort Hood Tragedy

Originally Published November 5, 2010

Reflections from BZ co-founder Benjamin Bryant  on the anniversary of the mass shootings at Fort Hood, TX:

Today marks the anniversary of one of the greatest domestic military tragedies of our time. One year ago, today, Malik Nadal Hasan, a U.S. Army Major serving as a psychiatrist at Fort Hood, Texas, opened fire on fellow soldiers and public servants at the post’s deployment processing center. That day, a simple processing center—an administrative stop where boxes are checked and soldiers advance on the path to the battlefield—became the battlefield. Heroes fell, as Hasan made his way through the center’s halls—stopping only to reload—and heroes rose, as brave guards defended their Army family, ultimately ending Hasan’s murderous rampage. When the attack was over, 13 were dead, more than 30 wounded, and questions were many: Why had this happened? How was it possible? What could we do to prevent it ever happening again?

Shortly after, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ordered an independent review of the circumstances surrounding the mass shooting, and the military community set about—under the leadership of former Secretary of the Army, Togo West, and former Chief of Naval Operations Vern Clark—finding the answers they could. Secretary Gates charged the Fort Hood Task Force to deliver, in 45 days, a comprehensive overview of the issues, concerns, challenges, and weaknesses associated with the United States military and the events leading up to and surrounding the tragedy of November 5. It was a challenging mission, constrained by time (as well as the coordination and investigative challenges of working around three national holidays), but it was an important one.  The findings and recommendations of the independent review, it was announced, would be the  springboard from which each of the Services and the DoD itself would pursue deeper examinations and identify and implement even more specific recommendations.  But there were no complaints, because this cause was personal…because this pain was deeply shared by every member of the task force. Each was motivated to do their best in honor of the victims, their families, and the greater military family around the world.I know this because I was there. Shortly after the shooting, Bryant Zamberlan Group co-founder Tommy Zamberlan and I were asked to join the Independent Review effort.  There, I supervised the work of the 14 writers, researchers, and administrators—all of whom shared the same sense of urgency and of duty felt by their uniformed brothers and sisters.It was a project that changed lives, and Tommy and I were no exception.  Never in our lives had we been so proud of the work done and the people we were blessed to work with: the cream of the crop from every Service and a wide variety of specialties, a group that listened as much as they spoke, learned as much as they taught, and challenged each other every day to deliver.fh11

And deliver this Task Force did, submitting a report in two volumes (one public, one restricted) to Secretary Gates, Congress, and President Obama in the 45 days allotted, a report that has influenced safety and security policy and procedures within the Services in the year since, and will continue to make a difference in the years to come.

I had the great honor of visiting Fort Hood a few months ago and, at the conclusion of my scheduled business, I found myself drawn to the site of the shooting, where makeshift memorials adorn the fence quickly erected to isolate the now empty processing center.  There were dozens of memorials: flowers, photographs, notes, and hand crafted items…even a series of short biographies with pictures of the fallen.  It was a powerful, humbling experience to go from each one to each one—difficult at times, but profound always.

In a world of copious exaggeration and endless hyperbole, I was reminded at that sacred spot that military service is the one place where no exaggeration is ever required: the men and women who serve—in uniform, and even as a civilian or contracted employees—are public servants in the truest sense.

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