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'Above and beyond'

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Posted: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 12:00 pm | Updated: 9:16 am, Thu Aug 16, 2012.

By Amanda Kim Stairrett

Fort Hood Herald

Many of those who received awards Friday claimed they were just doing their jobs. The honor was bittersweet, they said.

Fifty-two civilians and soldiers were recognized by Fort Hood and Army officials on the one-year anniversary of the Nov. 5 shooting at Fort Hood's Soldier Readiness Processing Center.

In a morning ceremony Friday at the post's Memorial Park , Maj. Gen. William Grimsley, III Corps and Fort Hood senior commander; Army Secretary John McHugh; and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey handed out Superior Civilian Service Awards, Meritorious Civilian Service Awards, Meritorious Service Medals, Secretary of the Army Awards For Valor and Soldier's Medals.

Capt. John Gaffaney's widow, Christine, accepted the Soldier's Medal on his behalf. Gaffaney charged the alleged gunman in an attempt to stop his rampage, but instead was shot and later died from his wounds. He was one of 13 to lose their lives that day. Thirty-two were injured.

The Soldier's Medal is awarded to members of the uniformed services who distinguish themselves "by heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy," according to the Army's Institute of Heraldry.

"The performance must have involved personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving conflict with an armed enemy," read the award's criteria.

Another of the Nov. 5 victims, Retired Chief Warrant Officer-2 Michael Cahill, tried to stop the gunman before he was shot, witnesses in the medical building that day reported. Fort Hood officials said last week that Cahill was a contractor and not eligible for military awards.

The scene at the center last year may have been familiar for anyone who has seen combat, but the men and women honored Friday went "well above and beyond the call of duty," said Maj. Gen. William Grimsley, III Corps and Fort Hood senior commander.

Also during the ceremony, the Fort Hood-Central Texas chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army unveiled a memorial stone in honor of the victims. The stone will remain at the park, which is located by the Old Post Chapel on 761st Tank Battalion Avenue.

Those who gathered at the park did so as an Army family, said Army Secretary John McHugh. It was within that family people could draw comfort and strength from, he said, because they would remain stronger as one than they ever could apart.

The 52 awarded Friday thought quick and answered without hesitation or reservation, McHugh said.

Sgts. Kimberly Munley and Mark Todd Sr., Fort Hood civilian police officers, received standing ovations when they each accepted the Army Secretary Award For Valor.

The two were the first police officers on the scene at the processing center Nov. 5, 2009, and are credited with stopping the alleged gunman. Munley was wounded and just recently returned to work at Fort Hood's Directorate of Emergency Service.

Receiving the award was bittersweet, Todd said, because of the circumstances in which it was earned. His day-to-day life wasn't changed by the shooting, he said, but 13 families will never be the same.

Meeting with some of the victims' loved ones and attending Friday's ceremony gave Todd some sense of closure, but he will never understand the fundamental question that arose from Nov. 5: Why?

"I'll probably never get that answer," he said.

Todd has received thanks from many people in the past year, but maintains he was just doing his job. Victims' families have thanked him for being there that day, and Todd had a simple response Friday when talking about their gratitude: "I wish I could've been there sooner."

Receiving thanks-yous from the families means more than anything "they could pin on my chest," said Staff Sgt. Zackary Filip, a 1st Cavalry Division combat medic who provided care to people wounded Nov. 5.

He was one of 12 who received the Meritorious Service Medal Friday.

Filip tried to treat Gaffaney, he said. The captain, perhaps knowing his fate, told the sergeant to help someone else.

Another soldier honored Friday was Sgt. 1st Class Maria Guerra, the medical building's senior noncommissioned officer.

She testified during the alleged gunman's Article 32 hearing last month at Fort Hood about her actions last year, saying she barred the doors once the shooter left the building and rallied the medical staff to help the wounded.

That leadership mode kicked right in, Guerra said Friday.

As Guerra led efforts Nov. 5, she knew that some of the victims were already deceased. She testified she had to instruct care providers to stop trying to help those who had passed. It's still hard for her to think back and know she had to tell people to move on, Guerra said Friday.

"It had to be done," she added.

Fort Hood officials hosted a remembrance ceremony in honor of Gaffaney, Cahill, Maj. Eduardo Caraveo, Staff Sgt. Amy Krueger, Capt. Russell Seager, Lt. Col. Juanita Warman, Staff Sgt. Justin DeCrow, Pvt. Francheska Velez, Spc. Jason Dean Hunt, Pfc. Aaron Nemelka, Pfc. Michael Pearson, Spc. Frederick Greene and Spc. Kham Xiong later Friday at Cameron Field.

More than 130 family members of the 13 fallen attended the ceremony, surrounded by the wounded, their loved ones, members of the Central Texas community and Army officials.

One of those family members was Leila Hunt-Willingham. Her little brother was Spc. Jason Dean Hunt - J.D. for short.

J.D. was an infantryman in the 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team. He was 22 at the time of his death.

Hunt-Willingham said finding out about her brother's death Nov. 5, 2009, was the worst moment of her life. But she and her family have come a long way in the last year.

Her faith has played an important part in that, bringing her comfort every day, she said.

"I don't think I could survive this if I didn't truly believe that he is in a better place," she said of J.D.

"When I think about growing old and dying some day, I think he just went a little earlier and I'll be there, too."

It's taken the better part of a year to get back to functioning, said Philip Warman, husband of Lt. Col. Juanita Warman, a nurse practitioner in the 1908th Medical Detachment.

Juanita was a fine soldier and wonderful person, Philip said, and she was dedicated to helping others. She was at Fort Hood preparing for a deployment to Iraq, a tour she volunteered for because she felt her talents could be better used there, Philip said.

Friday was the first time Philip could bring himself to visit Fort Hood from the home he shared with his wife in Maryland, and said the day was very touching.

Though the last year was "very difficult," Philip said he was surviving "as my wife would have wanted me to."

Loved ones of all 13 victims attended the remembrance ceremony and Hunt-Willingham said it was great to see the other families. They, the wounded and first responders have formed relationships in the last year, she said.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey Jr. reflected on the 2009 memorial ceremony for the victims - which took place five days after the shooting - saying it was much like Friday.

"Last year, on a day very much like today, behind a row of 13 Kevlars atop down turned rifles adorned with ID tags, boots and photos, and under a huge American flag, we struggled as a nation, as an Army and as a community to come to grips with a great tragedy," he said.

Casey talked about visiting two units that lost soldiers - the 20th Engineer Battalion and the 467th Medical Detachment - in Afghanistan.

"For the past year, I've seen how our soldiers and families have been honoring the memories of those we lost that day," he said. "I've seen the pledge to never forget in the actions of their fellow soldiers."

Spc. Alan Carroll, a soldier in the 20th Engineer Battalion, was shot multiple times while trying to evacuate a fellow engineer, Nemelka. Carroll had a chance to get out, but refused to leave his buddy. He and Nemelka were at the center Nov. 5 with two other friends, Greene and Pearson. Carroll was the only one who made it out alive.

Carroll worked to recover as quickly as possible and deployed with his battalion. He became an inspirational leader in the most successful route clearance unit in that region of Afghanistan, Casey said.

The most important part of Friday, which included a memorial dedication that morning, was gathering to remember and honor the lives of the 13, he went on to say.

"Monuments help keep memories alive and keep fresh in our minds the knowledge that the families of the fallen require the continued attention of a grateful nation," Casey said. "The names inscribed on the memorial are a constant reminder of that obligation.

"We will never forget."

Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at astair@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7547. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary or www.facebook.com/astairrett

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