Ft. Hood – As Commanding Lt. General Mark Milley spoke to the national media, thousands of military families fought bumper to bumper standstill traffic as they struggled to retrieve their children from the more than half-dozen public schools located on this sprawling post.
They had been locked down since approximately 4 p.m., when a gunman opened fire on fellow soldiers and police sealed the base to those who wished to depart and anyone who tried to enter. During those five tense hours, a caller who contacted a local television news team on his cell phone described soldiers being led out of the Family Readiness Center, a help center that provides logistical services to families of deployed combat personnel, at gunpoint to a parking lot where police made them kneel with their hands on their heads before clearing and releasing them.
Throughout the emergency, “the big voice,” a blaring emergency speaker system, boomed out over the base telling military families and soldiers to shelter in place, to stay away from doors and windows.
Though he would not identify the shooter who left three others dead before a female military policeman confronted him at gunpoint and he shot himself in the head with his own .45 cal. Smith & Wesson semi-auto pistol, the general gave a recital of the grim facts of the attack, which targeted only soldiers in combat uniform.
Ivan Lopez, 34, transferred to his new duty station in February from another Army base located in Texas. He had served four months in combat in Iraq in 2011, and was presently going through the lengthy process of diagnosis for PTSD when he approached the headquarters of the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), opened fire, then got in a vehicle and drove the short distance to the 49th Transportation Battalion, his assigned unit, where he brought the total of dead to three and wounded to 16. Gen. Milley acknowledged that the soldier was on medication for depression and anxiety at the time of the attack. He had not been assigned to the medical unit, nor was he going through a transition to exit the military service.
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) relies upon a network of Family Readiness Groups that respond to emergencies and family problems in soldiers’ lives during their deployments overseas.
A Facebook page maintained by the command says, “The difference between a click and a bang is logistics.” According to a recent editorial in the Killeen Daily Herald penned by the unit commander, Brig. Gen. Clark LeMasters, Jr., “The strength of our Nation is our Army…The cornerstone for suppotr to our families and soldiers are Family Feadiness Groups. The witness who talked to broadcasters on the phone described “a building marked 13 SCE, “next to a little chapel,” where police were leading soldiers out to a parking lot.
In his wake, witnesses said, the shooter left panicked soldiers leaping over fences in an effort to escape as more than 90 police cars suddenly appeared on base, helicopters hovered and zoomed overhead, and SWAT teams from area law enforcement agencies reacted.
According to General Milley, the situation was contained within 15 minutes as base security worked feverishly for the next several hours to sort out the victims and witnesses. When the all-clear came at 8:50 p.m., the bottleneck began to clear as those who needed to leave the post were allowed to drive out and those who needed to get to their homes on-base were allowed to return.
Many unit commanders told their troops to return to their headquarters for an all-hands check-in.
As the newsmen readied for the live press conference, an anchorman recalled the horor of the handgun attack of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and the apprehension of Pvt. Jason Nasser Abdo with materials for making a bomb he intended to detonate in a popular restaurant, and said, “Ft. Hood is a target.”
General Milley said he is not ruling out terrorism, but at this preliminary stage of the investigation, there is no indication that Lopez’ attack was so motivated.
For highlights of General Milley’s remarks, click here:
To read about Family Readiness Groups, follow these links: