By David Vergun
Army News Service
WASHINGTON, April 3, 2014 – For the Fort Hood, Texas, community and the Army family worldwide, "this is a time once again to come together, to stand as one as they have so many times before, drawing strength from each other," Army Secretary John M. McHugh told lawmakers today.
McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno appeared before a Senate Armed Services Committee posture hearing that was supposed to focus on readiness, manpower, modernization and the budget. But after the hearing opened, the focus quickly shifted to yesterday's tragedy at Fort Hood, in which a soldier allegedly killed three other soldiers and then killed himself.
Sixteen other soldiers were injured, three critically, but the rest were reported to be in stable condition. The gunman killed himself when confronted by a female military policeman, McHugh said.
"We lost people who are part of our Army family,” Odierno told the senators, “and we take that incredibly seriously."
The general said he spent a lot of time at Fort Hood as a commander at various levels and understands the "resilience of the community" and that the soldiers there are incredibly proud of the jobs they do. Odierno said he's confident of the leadership of the Fort Hood commander, Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley, who recently returned from Afghanistan.
In November 2009, Fort Hood suffered a similar shooting incident. Then, Army Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and injured others. Odierno said he believes the alert procedures developed after that shooting, as well as the training provided to soldiers, may have helped prevent yesterday's tragedy from developing into something "much worse."
The FBI, the Veterans Affairs Department and the state of Texas are all providing valuable assistance, he said.
McHugh provided facts about the tragedy that lawmakers requested, describing the investigation as still "fluid."
The alleged shooter joined the Army in June 2008 as an infantryman, McHugh said. He deployed to the Sinai with the Army National Guard for a year, then became a truck driver. In 2011, he deployed to Iraq in the active component during the final four months of the U.S. presence there.
His records show no wounds, no direct involvement in combat and no injury that would warrant further investigation of a battlefield traumatic brain injury, the Army secretary said. He was undergoing a variety of treatment. He had diagnoses for mental health conditions ranging from depression to anxiety to some sleep disturbance, McHugh continued. He was being prescribed a number of drugs to address those, including Ambien.
Last month, the soldier was seen by a psychiatrist. There was no indication or sign of likely violence to himself or others and no suicidal ideation, McHugh said. The plan forward was to continue monitoring and treating him as deemed appropriate.
The soldier's service record is clean in terms of major misbehaviors, he said.
The weapon believed to have been used in the attack was a .45-caliber pistol that the soldier had recently purchased, McHugh said. The weapon wasn't registered, and when he brought it on post it was there illegally, he added.
The alleged shooter lived off post and was married. His wife is being questioned, the secretary said.
Thus far, there's no indication of involvement with extremist organizations of any kind, according to Army records. "But we're not making any assumptions," McHugh said. "We're keeping an open mind and an open investigation. We'll go where the facts lead us."
McHugh laid out what the Army is doing in the tragedy’s aftermath.
"Our first responsibility is to the families of the fallen, those who have been wounded and those close to them,” he said. "We have ordered all possible means of medical and investigatory support as well as added behavioral health counselors.
"Any time the Army loses a soldier, we all mourn,” he continued. “When that loss comes at the hands of another soldier, … it just adds to the sorry and the all-consuming sense of loss the Army is feeling this day."