Month: November 2009

At Fort Hood

FtHoodThe media has a new top-line story to chew on following the shooting spree at Ft. Hood yesterday.  It’s a big story, there’s no doubt about that.  Because of where the shooting took place, the ethnic background of the suspect, his faith and a country focused on war, there’s a lot to try to understand.

It’s obvious to think that it must have been terrifying for the people involved.  They likely will be scarred by the experience in a way very different from whatever may happen to them in wartime combat.

There will be investigations, studies, finger-pointing, analysis, what-ifs, blame, calls for action.  This is what happens after situations like this.  Unfortunately we know that because crap like this has happened before and I suspect will in the future.

But while I’ve listened to the reporting on the incident I’ve had thoughts that maybe aren’t so obvious.

What must it have been like to hear the gunfire?  It’s a military base, populated at the time by people who shoot guns.  Granted, when you’re at a graduation ceremony you probably don’t expect to hear gunfire.  But I have to think loud noises are not uncommon to soldiers.  If you were in a formal situation at a place like that would you have thought “Something is wrong.  I must run out of this ceremony, with all of these people watching, and go see what’s happening?”  I know I would have stood frozen wondering “Is that gunfire or some other loud noise?”  “Is someone taking care of the situation?”  “If I run out of here now and it’s some other ceremony or equipment noise or something else, I’m going to look really stupid and will have ruined this for everyone.”  I can tell you that my first (and second through fifth) thought would certainly not have been to run out into the fray to investigate.

What if you had been one of the people being shot at?  Again, keep in mind where you are.  You’re at a military base.  You may even know the shooter, or at least recognize him from the chow line, the parking lot or any number of other places.  I would have doubted myself.  I would have thought “He’s not really shooting at people.  Those must be blanks.  This must be an exercise or a test.”  If I had those kinds of thoughts I probably wouldn’t be afraid, I’d be surprised and curious.  But I’d still not be acting in the best interest of my own safety nor of those around me who needed help.  I have to think it was surreal.  Until the reality took hold after, well, after how long?

In my job I have access to a wealth of wire service images and video from around the world.  I have seen an awful lot of photos taken right after the incident.  The thing that really struck me  was the number of images of cellular phones.  Phones gripped by terrified hands, held up to faces soaked in tears.  Most captions indicated that the person in the photo was trying to make contact with someone on the base.  Can you imagine the fear of the unknown at that point?  Think about not knowing where someone you care about is.  Are they alive, dead, injured or maimed for life?  Were they a long distance from the mayhem and don’t even know what’s going on?  Were they off-base on an errand and perfectly safe?  Why can’t I get in contact with…?

What if you’re the family watching it on TV and not even having a number to call; waiting for someone to reach out with information? It’s the fear of the unknown, thinking the absolute worst and thinking various degrees of horrific outcomes.  I know it must have been terror on the minds of those people holding those phones, but I also am smart enough to know that while I can empathize with them, I cannot truly feel that kind of pain and fear.

Now imagine you’re a survivor.  You need to go back to your routine.  You’ll be processing the experience for quite some time, but you still have your life to live, your work to do and in the case of some, a war to fight.   Think of those who tended to the wounded and dying.  Think of the officer who shot the suspect.  How do they get up in the morning?  How do they drive to work?  How do they get groceries?  How do they talk with their friends and loved ones?

The memory, the thoughts, the “Why not me?” questions move to the front of the mind, you push them back, they re-surface, you push them down again.  They won’t go away.  They’ll be with you forever, always knocking.

I don’t think about the shooter, his motivation, what will happen to him, what his history is.  I don’t care about the shooter, he’s nothing. My thoughts are of the hundreds of people involved and the ways in which this devastates and will continue to hurt them for a lifetime.