As part of a look at the 20th Engineer Battalion in the wake of Nov. 5, 2009, I interviewed Casey Andrysiak, the wife of the commander and senior adviser to the battalion’s family readiness group. The battalion was less than three months from deployment, and during the mass shooting, the battalion lost four soldiers and another 11 were injured.
This interview shows a behind-the-scenes look at how the family readiness group pulled together and supported the families during the tragedy. As an FRG volunteer myself, I tried to imagine what the days and weeks following Nov. 5 were like for those spouses, and I can’t.
Casey shared more than I could include in the print edition of the story, so here are her emailed responses to my questions. I hope fellow volunteers can appreciate the dedication to soldiers and families this story tells.
Rose: It sounds like the community really responded to meet the needs of the battalion. I know you mentioned the assembly line, but what were some of the specific things you can remember? Items donated, or anything that caught your eye or really stood out to you?
Casey: Immediately after the event occurred, we were overwhelmed with family and friends of the fallen and wounded driving and/or flying to Fort Hood. The majority had immediately started travel upon hearing of the event — meaning, they had no time to package up food or clothes, find lodging, and/or grapple with the transportation requirements of a city outside the scope of the major hubs (DFW, San Antonio, Houston, etc.). As such, the immediate mission of our battalion was to coordinate the procurement and delivery of at least seven days of meals, lodging, clothing, transportation for the most dramatically impacted 11 families/extended families.
We put together a plan — short-term food products needed, clothing and hygienic necessities required, lodging, transportation. Lodging and transportation requirements were addressed outside of the Family Readiness Group, food, clothing and toiletry items fell to the FRG.
Short-term food requirements meant procurement and delivery of hot meals; long-term required procurement of gift cards to various area restaurants; clothing/toiletries required physical donations, gift cards, and monetary donations. We received, packaged and distributed warm meals for seven days to the 11 families; we received and distributed restaurant gift cards that met their needs for the following two to three weeks; we received enough monetary and retail cards to meet every single clothing, toiletry, etc. request for an approximate three-week period as well.
We asked and we received beyond anything we could have ever imagined.
Rose: Were you the FRG leader, or senior adviser? Had you ever dealt with anything on that level?
Casey: I was the FRG senior adviser; I had dealt with the injury and deaths of soldiers per my husband’s previous deployments; however, nothing near the scale of need resulting from this incident. And, there are many processes, people, plans for combat related injuries and casualties. For an incident such as this? We had no precedent.
Rose: Were you surprised by the outpouring of support? Or how would you describe your emotions?
Casey: I was more than surprised; it was overwhelming — the donations were so extensive, they required hours of late-night detailed spreadsheet tracking to ensure that every dollar, every dish, every gesture was captured. And it’s not as if this was a massive corporate marketing campaign led by a team of advertising experts. It was word of mouth, it was the forwarded email, it was the phone calls from friend to friend that drove the contributions. Not a single dollar was spent driving this effort. It was genuinely voluntary and generous beyond anyone’s expectation.
Rose: It was a dark moment in Fort Hood’s history, but was there anything about it that you are able to look back on and see positives? The good in people? The plans in place?
Casey: The requirement to immediately provide warm meals to approximately 100 people for multiple days required us to implement a food drop-off location where we then organized and packaged up food for immediate delivery. We organized this event for the Sunday immediately following. Around 2 p.m. in the afternoon, I stepped outside of the food delivery location and realized the line of cars and people positioned to drop off food had curved around multiple streets. I started walking through the line of cars and people thanking them, and started jotting down the organizations they represented. Within 30 minutes I had the following organizations noted: First United Methodist Church Killeen, Bush’s Chicken - Harker Heights, the Patton Park mayoral team, Grace Lutheran Church and School, Grace United Methodist Church in Copperas Cove, the Henry T. Waskow High School in Belton, the San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind, the Previus Group - Salado, the Timber Ridge Elementary School in Killeen, Graphics Concepts in Killeen, the 36th Engineer Brigade, the 8th Engineer Battalion, the 62nd Engineer Battalion, the 2nd Engineer Battalion, 1-7 CAV, the 720th Military Police Battalion, the 41st Fires Brigade, the 2nd Squadron 3d ACR, and many, many friends and family ... all patiently waiting in line (on an overcast day) to donate warm food, to offer delivery assistance, to drop off gift cards. There was no question of loyalty to a specific military group or organization or loyalty to a specific religion or political group or loyalty to a specific ethnicity or gender or lifestyle. Everyone cared for all, everyone contributed to all.
Rose: Do you still volunteer for FRG and do you use any lessons learned from then in your volunteer work today?
Casey: I’m the senior adviser for the 2nd Engineer Brigade FRG. I’m an adviser for the Fort Richardson Spouses Club. I’m the yearbook editor for my children’s elementary school. I write a column for the Army Engineer magazine. And when I come in contact with people or groups as part of these positions, I remember the compassion showed to the 20th Engineer Battalion and I’m reminded of the importance of being patient, humble and generous.