After 13 people lay dead and 29 wounded, Fort Hood will never be the same. The mass shooting was the deadliest in history on a U.S. military base.
Eyewitnesses say they saw soldiers in bloody uniforms escaping the center where the shooting took place and going to other buildings in the area for safety.
Nov. 5 was a dark day when the enemy came from within America’s own ranks. The suspected shooter is 39-year-old Army psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan—a Muslim-born American who helped other soldiers during their counseling before going on his own rampage.
Army Pfc. Kyle Caffas, who is serving in Iraq, was relieved when he found out his wife, Kelsy, was safe at home in Texas after the massacre.
Kelsy Caffas, a UMHB junior, lives on post, but did not go home that night.
She had learned about the shooting from someone in her Greek class who received a text message.
“I was really shocked; it seems so unreal,” she said.
Caffas realized the gravity of the situation after she got out of class.
“I can’t get back to my house,” she thought. “It’s scary when you can’t get back to your house.”
She decided to hang out with friends on campus for awhile.
When Fort Food later reopened, Caffas knew she had to make the trip back because she had food in the slow cooker at home. But she feared spending the night.
“I felt more comfortable staying on campus. I didn’t want to be so close to where (the shooting) happened,” she said.
Caffas stayed at a friend’s apartment that night as the reality of the tragedy began to sink in.
The shooting happened at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center, a location her husband was no stranger to. Every soldier, before and after deployment, goes through the building — and her husband would becoming home soon.
However, Caffas couldn’t talk to her soldier until the next day when she found out that a member of his unit was among the first injured in the event. She said it was a “panicky situation for them.”
As for Bell County, the community — including UMHB — is left full of stories and heartache from the tragedy. While soldiers are trained to see death, and locals know it’s a possibility, this attack from within post was more than unexpected.
Former Army Ranger Nate Self, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2005 and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, said the event, regardless of the cause, will leave America with questions.
As a decorated serviceman with a Purple Heart, Silver Star and Bronze Star, Self has suffered emotional and physical pain as a soldier. He is an inspirational speaker to others in uniform who have also been through tragedy. Self wrote a book called Two Wars about his experiences and the psychological struggles that come from fighting in a war.
He has spoken to UMHB students twice in Chapel.
“A lot of people are asking why people didn’t recognize more of the signs and do something about it,” Self said. “This event sent shock waves of distrust throughout the force. It’s a difficult conversation to make sense of, but … we can make sense of it knowing there is sin in the world and people do bad things. People get sick in the head and act in ways that people don’t normally act, but God is in control even when it seems like no one is. We need to reinforce that message”
He alluded to his past experiences and explained that it is hard for people to understand a threat can come from anywhere, including from within.
“At the beginning of the war in Iraq, it was easier to comprehend because there was an enemy we were facing,” Self said. “But as time went on, the war became more psychologically taxing because it was an ambiguous battlefield, and it was difficult to determine who the enemy was.”
He believes this type of battle can be devastating in the military.
“When you’re driving down the street and you don’t know if the person walking up to your patrol car is going to blow himself up, it generates a lot of distrust,” Self said. “If that kind of attitude infiltrates our military, then I
don’t know how the military can do its job in that environment.”
Self said the shooting affected more than the soldiers and the Fort Hood community; it also impacted surrounding communities, like his own. Self, his wife Julie and their four children live in Salado, which is 33 miles from Fort Hood. They said it was difficult explaining to their oldest son, Caleb, why his school was on lockdown.
“There are quite a few conversations that come out of this as parents,” Self said. “It was an event that causes you to have to explain the world to your kids. Something like this has a deep psychological effect on everything.The kids were shocked by what happened and traumatized to a certain extent.”
The country will not be the same after the Fort Hood massacre when death lingered unexpectedly from behind its own lines and took the lives of America’s heroes. As the nation begins to heal, Self said it’s a perfect time for the community to reach out to the broken hearts scattered across the country, especially locally.
The university’s location, less than 30 miles from Fort Hood, is close to families of victims, soldiers, military spouses and children in local schools.
“People will see this as an opportunity to help as much as possible,” he said. “For us as Christians, it’s a chance to question how ready we are personally. Anything can happen on any given day, so it’s important we be ready to minister.”
The reality of the situation hit hard for junior Christian studies major Franklin Smith, a soldier who served 14 months in Iraq. Though he lives on campus, Smith went to Fort Hood on Thursday to get his hair cut at a shop outside of the gate.
“I was right there when it all happened,” he said. “I had this eerie feeling when I was driving down there that something was different, and that was probably what it was.”
Smith had been in the service for almost eight years. Based on firsthand experiences, he said the situations a solider goes through are life changing and can cause many longterm problems.
“A lot of them deal with post-traumatic stress, so tensions are probably really high, especially after this,”Smith said of the soldiers. “There are
a lot of mixed emotions that come from the aspect of laying down your life. It leaves the soldiers thinking, ‘We’re trying to fight for freedom over there, but we can’t even protect ourselves here.’”
Smith said the rampage has been a painful awakening and reality check.
“Once you’re a soldier, you’re always a soldier,” he said. “Even though I didn’t know those people who are killed and wounded, they’re still my brothers and fellow soldiers, and it’s such a sorrowful tragedy.”
Smith said the shooting will have an intense aftermath, including a larger attentiveness to safety and emotional well-being.
“There are so many different people with so many different walks of life that will react in different ways,” he said. “I’ve had friends that still have bad dreams. I’ve seen and felt a lot of bad things, but have chosen not to fixate my mind on (them) because I know only bad will come out of it. I don’t know what was going through that shooter’s mind or how the soldiers are feeling right now, but it’s something we need to pay close attention to.”
He believes the U.S. military will examine its options closely, but will respond. He said it is likely the Army will put an emphasis on psychological stability programs and stress the importance of non-discriminating behavior.
Fort Hood’s proximity to UMHB allows students opportunities to care for the wounded and those who serve. The Bell County area participated in a moment of silence at 1:35 p.m. on Nov. 6, 24 hours after the shooting. As the nation heals, so will the community continue to pick up the broken pieces that resulted from the shooting.
“It was one of our own; it wasn’t someone from the outside,” Smith
said. “That’s a lot of hurt that’s been established now.”
Brittany Montgomery contributed to this story.