The Iraq-Afghanistan Veterans of America have issued a statement on the tragedy at Fort Hood on April 2. In part, it reads
"While we still don't know the details about what motivated yesterday's tragic events, it's important we remember that our men and women currently in uniform and the veterans who have returned home from the wars are amongst the finest and most dedicated people in America and the actions of one individual don't diminish or change that fact. In moments like this, there is a tendency by some to paint a broad brush across the entire veterans community and it's important to guard against that mistake. We encourage everyone--especially those in the media and political positions--to be thoughtful and responsible in their reactions and to remember that correlation does not imply causation..."
This evening I spent some time talking about this to my wife over dinner. I served as an Army NCO for 23 years, and I told her something she already knew -- that despite dealing with the complete gamut of the Army in leadership roles and occasionally having to say and do very tough things to these folks, I never felt afraid of my soldiers. Part of this is the bullet-proof feeling that most NCOs have; but more to the point, it was confidence in my soldiers to act in their own best interest and in the relationship I forged with them.
They knew that I would go to bat for them; so, if TOP was pissed off and doing the first reading of an Article 15, they knew they in less trouble than if somebody else was reading it. That wasn't because I was a great guy; that was the way I was trained, coached and mentored by the Senior NCOs who I blame for the good things I did and hold harmless for any thing stupid, ignorant or evil that I did. I knew that if I had a problem, there were people who would listen to me.
More to the point, I reflected that the soldiers I dealt with of all ranks, faiths, educations, races, genders, national origins were representative of the the middle, working and poor classes in American Society. There weren't a lot of upper class and wealthy soldiers, although there were some. Children of refugees were more common than children of the wealthy, privileged or elite. I am still an American soldier, and I still feel that bond. Since the youngest soldiers I served with are now approaching their 20th year, I feel reasonably comfortable saying that there is nothing wrong with these kids that makes them different than the rest of society, and I felt safe and comfortable in that community as did my wife who also had served on active duty.
But, since becoming a civilian and spending most of of it as a working manager in HR and Executive positions, I have been threatened frequently and credibly so. I have had rocks thrown through windows at my home and other vandalism. I have had to defuse potentially violent situations in the workplace.
I have, in fact, found myself almost in a fist fight when a disgruntled former employee decided to attack at a funeral Mass for the Dad of one of the people whom I had the honor to lead in that civilian role. (I probably didn't help the situation all that much by laughing at the situation, but seriously, we're gonna throw down in the nave of the Church with the deceased on the way out of the sanctuary?) This has convinced of one thing -- there are a lot of angry, unbalanced and disturbed people in society, and they aren't getting the help they need. As a result, there is a lot of workplace violence and related violence that is not obviously tied to but is the result of workplace issues.
So, a truck driver under some action that may feel very adverse, loses it in an argument with somebody and gets his privately owned weapon, probably out of his car, and proceeds to shoot, injure and kill a number of people. Happens more often than we want to admit; in this case, it was a soldier. A 34 year old Specialist Four from New Mexico who had a family there in the greater Fort Hood Community. I do not know what drove Specialist Lopez to do what he did; I do know that the Army per se isn't at fault here.
My guess, evaluating this as an incident of workplace related violence, is that Lopez felt intense pressure, had not found someone to listen who could and would help, was very frustrated and someone got in his face, and the bad things resulted.
We are learning more. He had been stationed at Fort Bliss, had arrived at Fort Hood in February, and had just brought his family there from El Paso and moved them to an apartment sometime in the last couple of weeks. He was on Ambien and possibly other anti-depressants. He passed the basic background investigation, had no criminal record and seemed "normal" to his new neighbors. He had been a New Mexico Guardsman for ten years as an infantryman, and left the Guard for active duty in 2008 or 2010 depending on the source, at some point changing his MOS to Truck Driver. Now, it's possible to take forever to make rank in the Guard and the Reserve; 2010 was not a great year for the economy in New Mexico. At 34, he was well behind the power curve in terms of rank; he was probably facing money problems; the whole downsizing thing is really hitting junior enlisted soldiers hard, and I'm guessing he faced financial pressures in bringing his wife and daughter from El Paso or New Mexico to Killeen.
But this is all either superficial or informed deduction. At this point, we don't know why.
I don't agree with the NRA about very much but I do think that they are correct if one dimensional in their complaint that there is a psychological health crisis in the United States and it is not being addressed. I happen to think that registration is critical as are detailed background checks. I suspect that if as the media has reported SPC Lopez was being treated by a Military Treatment Facility while being evaluated for PTD, TBI, anxiety and depression, he would probably not have turned up in the checks. But, he might have -- and that is worth considering.
It would be interesting to know if Lopez was considered able to function at this point with a weapon or was he regarded as a risk to himself or others? It appears that he had been evaluated and considered not to be a risk, but having watched that process, it's harder to be considered such a risk than not. If you are in one of those risk categories, it has an adverse effect on unit readiness. Can anyone say Bradley Chelsea Manning?
Regardless, it's critical to understand that workplace violence is not incidental -- it's part of a chain of events and the workplace is seen by the perpetrator as a source of his anger, disillusion, torment. Torment is a good word. Again, this is not an original bit of brilliance from me. The FBI conducted a study in 2013 on incidents of workplace violence and highlighted this conclusion it the introduction to their report. We need to reflect deeply on this; situation has not changed, except the problems have multiplied. People feel more stressed, more threatened, more disrespected and this is as true in the military combined with the additional stresses of service in uncertain and changing times.
Army wives reaching out while waiting to hear.
Mass murder on the job by disgruntled employees are media-intensive events. However, these mass murders, while serious, are relatively infrequent events. It is the threats, harassment, bullying, domestic violence, stalking, emotional abuse, intimidation, and other forms of behavior and physical violence that, if left unchecked, may result in more serious violent behavior. These are the behaviors that supervisors and managers have to deal with every day. FBI report 2013 (Emphasis added)
I am not sure how to prevent any and all incidents of this type. I do think that leaders need to focus on taking care of their people and become more involved if possible in their lives as we have for over 200 years.
To the families and the victims, including the family of SPC Lopez, I offer my condolences and heartfelt thanks for their service, and your service. To the Officers and NCOs of the Army, make certain that there is no causation, that soldiers are provided all the emotional and psychological support possible while continuing to make tough calls on discipline and performance. T
o the American electorate, anyone who does not think that these problems are in part due to the fraying of the feelings of worth, security, hope in the overall community is wrong; we have gone down a very bad road in terms of the social fabric of the country and it will years, money and dedication to change back from the "Takers/Makers" nonsense to one that rewards work and guarantees human dignity for all.
To our elected leaders and politicians, start doing what is needed for the country not for your campaign donors or supporting special interests. This is still a pretty good place, but as a community and nation, it used to be better. Let's try to rebuild that better world and improve on it, for the sake of all.