WASHINGTON — It was about 4:15 p.m. April 2. Lt. Col. Addison Burgess, 1st Cavalry Division chaplain, was getting ready to leave his office at Fort Hood when he was told to stay put. He heard shots and hoped it was a routine memorial ceremony.
His worst fears came true when the lockdown alarm sounded.
Soon, the installation learned of the shooting attack by Spc. Ivan Lopez, which once again enveloped the Army installation in tragedy.
Immediately following the lockdown notification, the chaplain’s office began accounting for all unit ministry teams.
With some people at medical appointments, en route from the National Training Center at Fort Hood or already home for the day, it took about 15 minutes to reach 100 percent accountability of all division chaplain personnel.
At 6:45 p.m., the chaplain’s office was told by headquarters to send four chaplains for casualty assistance, and at 7 p.m., other unit ministry teams were notified to move to two gyms to provide support to the two brigades caught in the crossfire of the attack.
All soldiers in the sustainment brigade and 1st Medical Brigade were required to report to the gym, where they had a chance to speak with unit leaders and chaplains to share information about the incident and talk to someone if they wanted help.
“It was an emotional roller coaster within both settings,” Burgess said about the chaotic gyms during the aftermath of the shooting.
As limited information about the incident spread, chaplains moved around to talk with soldiers and to make themselves available if anyone wanted to talk.
“You have to give soldiers an opportunity to process where they are,” Burgess said. “Chaplains need to remind soldiers and loved ones that they are safe, that we have to be able to gather the pieces but are here as a community to walk through this together.”
As family members of Sgt. 1st Class Daniel M. Ferguson, Staff Sgt. Carlos L. Rodriguez and Sgt. Timothy W. Owens, who were killed in the attack, were notified, chaplains were assigned to each family for ongoing pastoral care.
Chaplains were tasked to stay with the families until the memorial ceremony April 9 — but even after the memorial, all volunteered to help until the families were ready for them to leave.
Chaplains also ensured the wife of the shooter was taken care of in the aftermath of the attack. They assigned a Spanish-speaking chaplain to work with her and her young family as they cope with the tragedy.
Fort Hood’s chapels saw more people at services in the days following the tragedy.
“They want to hear it from you,” Burgess said about the way people may seek answers from chaplains in the wake of grief. “But they have to ask God for help. It has to come from within. Chaplains walk with them and help them talk to God.”