Killeen-area residents are starting the year with a piece of big news: Fort Hood’s name will be changing in the near future.
Thanks to Friday’s Senate override of President Donald Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act, the clock is ticking on removing the names of Confederate leaders from U.S. military installations. That includes Fort Hood, which was named for Confederate General John Bell Hood.
Both houses of Congress agreed to put the name-change language in the NDAA last summer, and President Trump vetoed the bill, partly because of his objection to the mandate. But now that Congress has overridden the president’s Dec. 23 veto, the move to rename the post is moving forward.
The renaming won’t happen overnight, of course. The language calls for the secretary of Defense to make the change within the next three years.
Before that takes place, a series of events will have to play out.
The NDAA establishes an eight-member commission to work on the issue, setting up procedures for removing the names and proposing a process for renaming the bases.
Within 60 days of the bill’s passage, the commission must hold its first meeting, with its initial briefing mandated by October.
It is likely to be a drawn-out process, but then again, it should be.
Our local military post has carried the name of Hood since it was first established here as Camp Hood in 1942 — nearly 80 years ago.
In the intervening years, thousands of our service members have called it home — returning to our community after seeing combat in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan.
Others have deployed from Fort Hood but have not returned from the field of battle, making the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation. Fort Hood mourns and honors their loss, as do all of us in this community.
Fort Hood and the local region forged a strong bond over the past eight decades, and many Army commanders have commented on the tremendous level of support they experienced while serving here, at what is often called “The Great Place.”
Changing the post’s name won’t change that dynamic, nor should it.
Nor should renaming Fort Hood erase the decades of honorable service rendered by the brave men and women who have marched under its guidons.
Certainly, there are legitimate reasons for removing the names of military leaders whose cause was associated with racism and slavery.
But in erasing those names, we must be careful not to diminish the historical significance of these military installations or the contributions of those who served under their flags.
Several former Fort Hood commanders have expressed an openness to renaming the post, with the name of the late Gen. Richard Cavazos suggested as a possibility for the installation’s new identity.
Certainly, Cavazos, a III Corps and Fort Hood commanding general from 1980 to 1982, had a distinguished career and was well respected in the ranks.
His bravery during Korea and Vietnam earned Cavazos two Distinguished Service Crosses, a Silver Star Medal, two Legion of Merit awards, five Bronze Star Medals for Valor, a Purple Heart Medal, a Combat Infantry Badge and a Parachutist Badge.
Cavazos, who died in 2017, was also the Army’s first Hispanic four-star general — so naming the post in his honor would be acknowledgement of the military branch’s diversity.
Of course, renaming Fort Hood has its drawbacks as well.
Thousands of service members have served at Fort Hood, and for many, it represents a significant part of their military careers.
In addition, dozens of businesses have included Fort Hood in their names, including Fort Hood National Bank, Fort Hood Harley Davidson and Fort Hood Area Association of Realtors.
There’s also the issue of renaming Fort Hood Street in western Killeen, a major thoroughfare that runs from the eastern entrance to the post to Killeen’s southern city limit.
Another major name change would be required for Killeen Fort Hood Regional Airport.
Needless to say, it will take some time to get accustomed to the post’s new identity and all the corresponding changes that will take place in our community.
But the impending rebranding — which may come sooner than three years if President-elect Joe Biden decides to move up the timeline — should not be viewed merely as history and tradition giving way to political correctness.
To do so would diminish both the pain caused by perpetuating the Confederate legacy and the distinction with which our post’s soldiers have served over the past 81 years.
Instead, the name change should be received with the same open-mindedness that Fort Hood’s leadership showed when presented with the recent independent review of the post in the wake of Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s disappearance and death last spring.
The three-month review, commissioned by Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, provided nine findings and 70 recommendations on improving Fort Hood’s command climate and its impact on soldiers’ safety and welfare.
In committing to move forward with implementation of those recommendations, Fort Hood’s commanders began the important process of better protecting the men and women entrusted to their care.
Certainly, change can be difficult — especially when it is dictated from the outside.
However, the committee charged with renaming our military installations has the opportunity to rebrand our Central Texas post with a name that both lives up to its proud heritage and better reflects the values of our community.
In doing so, they can take a symbolic step toward making “The Great Place” an even better one.