Hasan hearing, suicides top 2010 Fort Hood news

Herald/Steven Doll - Kerry Cahill, daughter of Michael Cahill who died in the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting at Fort Hood, looks at a soldier’s dog tags on a tribute to the shooting victims during a Remembrance Ceremony on Nov. 5 at Fort Hood.

By Amanda Kim Stairrett

Killeen Daily Herald

Editor's Note: In the week leading up to the New Year, each day the Killeen Daily Herald will publish a different "top 10" list of stories of the year on each beat, as selected by the reporters who cover those areas.

Almost a year after gunman opened fire Nov. 5, 2009, at Fort Hood's Soldier Readiness Processing Center, the man charged with killing 13 and injuring more than 30 others appeared in court.

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's Article 32 hearing started Oct. 12 at Fort Hood. As part of the Uniform Code of Military Justice process, an Article 32 hearing is called and attorneys present their evidence to an Army officer, who then decides if there is enough for the case to proceed to a court-martial.

Col. James L. Pohl determined Nov. 16 there was enough evidence and recommended Hasan go to trial and face the death penalty. Officials have yet to announce whether a court-martial will occur or when that might start.

During the hearing, witness after witness testified in the Fort Hood courtroom and via video teleconference from across the world. They included civilian contractors and soldiers who were in the center's medical building, first responders and investigators.

The hearing was the public's first in-depth look into the incident, though Hasan's lead attorney, retired Col. John Galligan, attempted to bar the press and public from the proceedings.

Hasan, confined to a wheelchair after he was shot by a civilian Fort Hood police officer and paralyzed, said little during the hearing. His attorneys did not present a case.

The public learned of the chaotic scene inside the medical building as confused soldiers and civilians watched bullets fly and friends fall. Many testified they thought the shots were part of a training exercise until they saw the blood - their own or of those next to them.

Recordings of 911 calls made from inside the building and dash camera footage from two responding police officers were played in court. Soldiers told of running for their lives, feeling gunshots hit them and protecting buddies. An investigator used a diagram of the building to mark each spot he found a dead body - bodies of husbands, brothers, wives, fathers, sisters, boyfriends, uncles and a mother-to-be.

Through testimony of shock and horror came accounts of bravery and heart-breaking heroism. As Retired Chief Warrant Officer-2 Michael Cahill's widow, Joleen, sat in the courtroom, witnesses testified the 62-year-old contractor tried to stop the shooter, but was gunned down.

Capt. John Gaffaney, a National Guardsman in the 1908th Combat Stress Control Detachment, also charged the shooter and in that effort, lost his life. Staff Sgt. Zackary Filip, a 1st Cavalry Division combat medic who was on the scene and provided care to people wounded Nov. 5, later said he tried to treat Gaffaney outside the medical building. The captain, perhaps knowing his fate, told the sergeant to help someone else.

Gaffaney's widow, Christine, accepted the Soldier's Medal on his behalf Nov. 5, 2010, during a day of remembrance at Fort Hood. Cahill was a government contractor and not eligible for military awards, Fort Hood officials said in November.

Those injured and loved ones of the fallen converged upon Fort Hood a year after the shooting as officials hosted a remembrance ceremony.

Barbed wired and a tall fence surround the medical building to this day. Photos, wreaths and signs adorn the fence in honor of Cahill, Gaffaney, 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.

Soldier suicides rise

Soldier suicides were also one of the top stories to emerge from Fort Hood this year.

From Sept. 24 to 26, four Fort Hood soldiers - Pvt. Antonio Eduardo Heath, Sgt. Timothy Ryan Rinella, Master Sgt. Baldemar Gonzales and Sgt. Michael Timothy Franklin - took their own lives. As of Dec. 15, there were 19 confirmed suicides and three pending cases at Fort Hood, according to information from III Corps.

Data from the post showed that 2010 suicide rates were higher than any other year since 2003. There were seven confirmed suicides in 2003, five in 2004, nine in 2005, three in 2006, six in 2007, 14 in 2008 and 11 in 2009.

"It is frustrating that so many Fort Hood soldiers have decided to take their own lives," Maj. Gen. William Grimsley, Fort Hood's senior commander, said in a late September release. "Leaders at all levels remain deeply concerned about this trend and are looking for innovative ways to better support soldiers and their families to reverse this pattern."

Grimsley added that Fort Hood officials take suicide prevention seriously, and they have adopted a holistic approach to raise awareness of programs available to soldiers and their families to get the help they need.

In a November visit to Killeen, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff, cited the 2010 Health Promotion Risk Reduction Suicide Prevention Report, 300 pages of data made public in August that examines soldier suicides, causes and recommendations and conclusions about dealing with the issue. He said it addressed some of the broader challenges facing the Army after a decade of war.

In what Chiarelli called the "tough report," officials admit there are gaps in how they identify and address at-risk soldiers.

There are higher incidents of soldiers engaging in at-risk behavior that leads to increased repeat criminal offenses; illegal and prescription drug abuse; and violent crimes like homicide, sexual assault and suicide.

At-risk behavior is often the biggest indicator that soldiers will try or succeed in ending their own lives, the report read.

Chiarelli also addressed part of the report that concluded that when units aren't deployed, there is a "lost art" of leadership in garrison. Many officers and noncommissioned officers only know a wartime Army and don't know how to properly lead troops at home.

It's a "redeploy-and-release" mentality, Chiarelli said. The threat to soldiers who are deployed is on duty, while the threat to soldiers who are at home is off duty, he added.

There is a significant lack of leadership involved in the garrison environment, he said, and "we've got to get a handle on this."

For more on the top Fort Hood stories of 2010, including deployments to Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan, read next week's Fort Hood Herald.

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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