Friday, November 6, 2009

Tragedy at Fort Hood: Seeking the Silver Lining

PHOTO: The line of cars leaving Fort Hood with us last night after the post was re-opened.

In a strange twist of fate, my husband and I were together with our two boys on Fort Hood on the afternoon of November 5, 2009. Killeen ISD had an early release day so we headed to post about 1:00 p.m. to get our H1N1 flu mists. We ended up being 'locked down' in the clinic for about six hours as we learned about the shootings taking place nearby and waited to hear resolution of the safety lock-down. It was a long afternoon of fear, rumors, and uncertainty.

Yet even within the tragic circumstances that were unfolding as we waited, we found many things for which to be thankful.

We were together. I can count on one hand the number to times that my kids and I have been with our Soldier on Fort Hood in the middle of a school day. I was so thankful that we were in the same place at the same time and had each other throughout the ordeal.

We had friends with us. We didn’t know anyone in the clinic when we got there, but six hours later, we could easily call each other friends. Enduring a stressful event has a way of bypassing the formalities of friendship and getting right to the heart of the matter. My children made at least three new friends (bonded by a common love of the game, Pok√©mon) and shared their snacks with everyone in the room.

We experienced great camaraderie. As we watched the news unfold, the group in our area became very friendly and helped keep things as calm as possible as we waited to hear what would come next.

We were well cared-for by the clinic staff. The staff at the clinic was simply wonderful. They remained calm, professional, and friendly throughout the day and resorted to creative means to help make us as comfortable as possible. In our time there, we had at least half-a-dozen staff members offer our children everything from carrots and dip to candy to veggie burgers! They were literally pulling their own snacks and meals and offering to share with those of us stuck there with them. Staff members also provided change for the vending machines, allowed us to use microwaves to pop popcorn, and kept us informed throughout the day.

We were surrounded by Soldiers. I cannot adequately describe my pride and love for our US Army Soldiers. I love being on post and being around these wonderful men and women who practice selfless courage, honor, and loyalty on a daily basis. Several young Soldiers were sitting in the area where we listened for the news and were the epitome of calm professionalism. I felt comforted just being surrounded by these uniformed heroes.

We experienced our Army installation taking care of its own. From the moment we were told that the clinic was ‘locked down’ to the time we drove off post, we saw Soldiers taking care of business. In our own location, Soldiers were stationed at each door to ensure that no one moved into or out of the clinic. For six long hours, those inside the clinic worked tirelessly to protect each other. We appreciated hearing our own Corps Commander giving us the latest details and facts as they came in and genuinely felt the concern for the safety of all on the installation.

We got to see our community in action. On our local television station, we heard a plea for volunteers to give blood at blood banks in Killeen and Waco. Blood was needed for those injured in this attack. Within a short period of time, the next report came out that the blood drives had been called off … there were too many responders to process them all! Subsequent interviews with those at the blood banks included Soldiers who could not get back on Fort Hood so decided to give blood, Army Family members (one who was said in essence, “Our military needs blood. Why wouldn’t I be here?”), and local supporters.

We experienced an outpouring of love and concern. Just as soon as the story of the shootings reached the airwaves, my husband and I received an endless stream of voicemail, Facebook posts, texts, and tweets from those concerned for our safety. From friends and family members to colleagues and co-workers to online blogging buddies, we felt the love of those concerned about the situation.

We touched base with Fort Hood friends. From phone calls to Facebook posts, we were able to get in touch with friends on Fort Hood to verify their safety. There was a flood of messages resulting in assurances that friends and neighbors were okay. This only strengthened an already amazing bond that Army Families share. When we begin to learn who was affected by this attack, the expression of help and love will only increase. Already we are asking, “What can we do? How can we help?”

We knew we were among helpmates. At one point, it was believed that we would be able to leave the clinic, but would not be able to leave post. Since we live off-post, we immediately started brainstorming what we might do. Our two children joined in with announcements of which of their friends lived on-post. We quickly came up with a long list of options … people we could call or show up at their doorstep and who would gladly let us in and provide whatever we might need.

Today I am heartbroken for those who lost loved ones yesterday. I am concerned and hopeful for those injured. I am shocked and stunned that this could occur on any Army installation and especially here, in my home. I am angry at an individual who would commit this most heinous of betrayals against those whose very lives protect him daily. But, ironically, mostly I am thankful. I am thankful for my own Family, for my Soldier, for my home, for Fort Hood and its leaders, and for the Army Family. The true spirit of the Army Family is one of perseverance, loyalty, and strength … and I am forever grateful to be a part of it.

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