By Paula Ann Solis
FORT HOOD – President Barack Obama visited Fort Hood Wednesday for the second time during his presidency to provide a message of hope and love a week after the post’s second shooting initiated by a soldier.
“This tragedy tears at wounds still raw from five years ago,” Obama said. “Once more, soldiers who survived foreign warzones were struck down here at home, where they’re supposed to be safe. We still do not yet know exactly why, but we do know this: We must honor their lives, not ‘in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.’”
Obama cited this Scripture from 1 John and later another verse from 1 Corinthians assuring the 3,000 soldiers and civilians in attendance outside Sadowski Field that love can bear all things and guide the nation through this tragedy.
First lady Michelle Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and other dignitaries from the nation and state capitals joined Obama in remembering the fallen.
Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Michael Ferguson, 39, Staff Sgt. Carlos Alberto Lazaney-Rodriguez, 38, and Sgt. Timothy Wayne Owens, 37, are the three soldiers who did not escape the shooting rampage at Forth Hood on April 2.
Issues of mental illness were of high concern following the shooting that injured an additional 16 soldiers before the lone gunman took his own life. As the sequence of events and motivations behind the gunman’s choice to take lives on his own base continue to be asked, Obama made a promise to do more for soldiers who feel they may suffer from similar emotional traumas.
“Today, four American soldiers are gone,” Obama said. “Four Army families are devastated. As commander in chief, I’m determined that we will continue to step up our efforts, to reach our troops and veterans who are hurting, to deliver to them the care that they need, and to make sure we never stigmatize those who have the courage to seek help.”
Confusion for how a tragedy of this nature could strike the same base twice was a common matter among the speakers, including Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno.
“Our job as leaders is to prepare soldiers for the chaos of war,” Odierno said. “The loss of any soldier in any circumstance is a tragedy for a unit or for a family. Yet somehow the loss of comrades in the heat of battle is the risk that we understand and with time we can accept. That these soldiers were lost on American soil and at the hands of one of our own makes this tragedy heartbreaking and inexplicable.”
While some contemplated the incompressible behavior that would turn one military member on another, Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley spoke about the heroic acts by the fallen men during their last day and spoke of them in terms outside their military lives.
Lazaney-Rodriguez was from Puerto Rico and the son of soldier who inspired him to enlist. He loved to cook and surprise his family with his meals. He was months away from his retirement and is survived by his two parents, two sisters, a brother and his son.
Owens was a baseball fan who taught martial arts before serving in operation Iraqi Freedom and he was a father to three children. He lost his life walking toward the gunman in an attempt to calm him down.
And lastly, Milley told the brave story of Ferguson who was fatally wounded while holding a door shut to save the lives of fellow soldiers. He was engaged to be married.
Others from the Fort Hood and surrounding community came out Wednesday to show their support and share their stories of good days spent with the fallen.
Caycee Hauck, 22, said Owens became her friend through a shared passion for cars. The two were in a car club and spent time over the year they knew each other fixing vehicles and developing a camaraderie.
“He would help out anybody, that’s just how he is,” Hauck said. “He didn’t care if he knew you, he didn’t care if he didn’t know you, he just saw you and still helped you out.”
Hauck said she wants her fallen friend and the other soldiers who were hurt to be remembered as heroes whose sacrifices are why American’s are free. She also said teaching more American’s about the purpose of the Army so that more are with than against the organization is part of the solution.
Obama shared with this sentiment of uniting behind troops now and in the future so that days like the one in 2009 and again on April 2 will not be experienced by this nation again.
“We must honor these men with a renewed commitment to keep our troops safe, not just in battle but on the home front, as well,” he said. “In our open society, and at vast bases like this, we can never eliminate every risk. But as a nation, we can do more to help counsel those with mental health issues, to keep firearms out of the hands of those who are having such deep difficulties. As a military, we must continue to do everything in our power to secure our facilities and spare others this pain.”