At Fort Hood memorial, Obama promises help for war-weary troops

President Obama spoke at a Fort Hood memorial service Wednesday to remember three soldiers killed by Sgt. Ivan Lopez. He said the US needs to better address mental illness in the military. 

Carolyn Kaster/AP
President Obama speaks during a memorial ceremony Wednesday in Fort Hood, Texas, for those killed in a shooting last week.

With the traditional memorial of the fallen soldier in the foreground – empty boots and a helmet atop a rifle – President Obama took to the podium to remember the troops who were gunned down at Fort Hood last week, and to offer a window into how the Pentagon, and the White House, plans to preempt such attacks less likely in the future.

After losing 576 Fort Hood soldiers in a dozen years of war, the president, along with top US military leaders, gathered at the Texas Army base to remember the three who were gunned down by Sgt. Ivan Lopez.

The job of military leaders “is to prepare our soldiers for the chaos of war,” the Army’s top officer, Gen. Raymond Odierno, said in remarks at the memorial service. “Somehow the loss of comrades in the heat of battle is a loss we all understand and, with time, we can accept.”

But that the soldiers were lost “on American soil, at the hands of one of their own, makes this tragedy inexplicable,” added General Odierno, whose lived with his family on the base for more than seven years when he wasn’t commanding troops in Iraq.

Two Fort Hood soldiers, Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ferguson and Staff Sgt. Carlos Lazeney-Rodriguez, joined the military two decades ago, prior to the 9/11 attacks “and stayed as the nation went to war,” Mr. Obama said. Sgt. Timothy Owens joined after 9/11, “knowing he could be sent into harm’s way.”

Among them, the three deployed to war nine times. Sergeant Ferguson returned from Afghanistan “just last year,” but was killed at Fort Hood after holding the door shut, reportedly in an effort to keep Sergeant Lopez from entering and doing harm to more fellow soldiers. In turn, he was “saving the lives of others while sacrificing his own,” Obama said.

Sergeant Owens, a counselor, “gave his life walking toward the gunman, trying to calm him down,” Obama told mourners at the Wednesday afternoon memorial services.

“Part of what makes this so painful is that we’ve been here before,” he said, referring to the 13 soldiers who were gunned down at Fort Hood in 2009.

While “we still do not yet know exactly why,” Obama said, “we must honor these men by doing more to care for our fellow Americans living with mental illness, civilian and military” and, he added, “by recognizing that they were members of a generation that has borne the burden of our security in more than a decade of war.”

For this generation, the military community “must come together” to identify the risk factors that lead to violence, and to address the challenges of mental illness, Odierno said. “Anytime a soldier believes hurting oneself or others is a solution to the problems they face, we must ensure that the Army family is there for them, to show them another way forward, and to lift them from their despair.”

In the wake of the tragedy, Obama added, “I’m determined that we will continue to step up our efforts to reach our troops and veterans who are hurting, to deliver them the care that they need, and to makes sure we never stigmatize those who have the courage to seek help.”

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