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Fort Hood Seven Years On
There's a place in central Texas where valor runs deep and life is deeply connected to something known as "warrior ethos." It's also an area known for its warm greetings, wide open spaces, exceptional football and damn good music. And, it's a far cry from the nearby SXSW festival taking place this week where hash tags rule the land. No, it's not home to Facebook or Digg, but Fort Hood-one of the largest active-duty military bases in the world.
Fort Hood, or "The Great Place," is not just a military base. Like most other active duty bases, it is a community—one made up of infantrymen, cavalrymen, tankers, engineers, health care professionals and hundreds of IAVA members and their families. It's a community that has lived and served together for almost 70 years, and a community recently impacted by a great national tragedy.
Nearly five months ago, a gunman tested that community in a shooting rampage that left 13 dead, 30 wounded, and a nation grieving. In the face of unimaginable loss, the people of Fort Hood came together. They demonstrated that they had each other's backs, and with stronger resolve than ever before, moved forward with an even greater sense of mission and purpose. None exemplified this resilience more than Private second class Alan Carroll from Bridgewater, New Jersey. Just days after bullets pierced his abdomen, thigh and both arms, Carroll was out of the hospital and intensely focused on rehabbing his injuries so he could deploy with his unit to Afghanistan this past January. Despite his serious injuries, Carroll was committed to fulfilling his duty to serve and joining his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan.
I've been hearing inspirational stories like this one as I have traveled throughout the country for the last 2 weeks—but I've never been more inspired than today when I visited Fort Hood with a team from IAVA. All of us were overwhelmed by the courage of Alan Carroll and those affected by the November massacre. We were humbled to pay our respects to the victims of this terrible tragedy, and honored to meet with some members of Fort Hood's command and its soldiers.
Like any garrison in wartime, many of those we met today just got home or are on their way to combat, for their first or maybe fifth deployment. Over 800,000 of our troops have been there more than once. For those headed to Iraq, this might very well be their last time setting foot on its soil. And perhaps this will be my last post on the anniversary of the Iraq war.
Over the last seven years, I've written frequently about the conduct of the war, the media covering it (or lack of) and the often forgotten human cost of it all. In just a few months, our politicians will declare victory in Iraq, and for most Americans, the war will be over. For many of us that served there, however, it will remain a constant. We will never overlook the anniversary of the conflict, the memories of our deployments, the men and women we served with and the 4,743 courageous servicemembers who have given the ultimate sacrifice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
By September 1, 2010, President Obama plans to withdraw two-thirds of the 142,000 remaining troops in Iraq, and leave a small "residual force" to help train and advise Iraqi security forces, protect diplomats and civilians working in-country and continue counterterrorism work. On that date, the mission in Iraq will take on a new name: Operation New Dawn.
My hope is that it really will be a new dawn for the people of Iraq who have endured decades of sectarian violence, and for its infant democracy, which continues to evolve with the recent freely-held elections.
September can also be a new beginning for our servicemembers and their families, including those at Fort Hood, who have endured 7 years of fighting two simultaneous wars. And a fresh start for our veterans in the form of expanded educational benefits, job opportunities, mental health resources and streamlined disability benefits. These are the men and women of "The Next Greatest Generation." After seven years, there is some hope in Iraq, but the real story is the tremendous promise in these new veterans now at home.
The drawdown this year should serve as a final wakeup call for the American public, who will hopefully never again shield themselves so effectively from the sacrifices of war.