On Base And In Town, Shooting Summons A Dread All Too Familiar

From Killeen, Texas, where Fort Hood is based, Melissa Block talks to soldiers who were on base during the shooting, as well as with Killeen's mayor. The mayor explains how the town is trying to cope.

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Melissa Block is in Killeen, Texas. She was reporting and hosting the program from Dallas this week and needless to say, this shooting at Fort Hood caused a change in plans. Melissa has been talking with people in Killeen about the shooting and the impact on the community.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Fort Hood is really a city unto itself in Killeen. I'm looking right now at a sprawling complex of dun-colored buildings. They're spread over 340 square miles. More than 41,000 people work at Fort Hood but most of them live off-post, and this shooting ripples deeply into the community.

MAYOR DAN CORBIN: It's like losing a member of your family.

BLOCK: That's the mayor of Killeen, Dan Corbin. He was out on an errand yesterday afternoon and heard the first news of the shooting on the radio.

CORBIN: Kick in the gut. You're very sad. You're mad. You're sad. You wish you could do something to help, and you know that the best thing you could do right now is stay out of people's way and pray. There's going to be funerals, and we need to pray for comfort for the families of those who've lost their loved ones the same we pray for those who were killed in combat.

BLOCK: The city's been marked by spasms of extreme gun violence, and Mayor Corbin knows them all too well. Back in 1991, it was the massacre at a Luby's Cafeteria in which 23 people were shot and killed. In 2009, it was former Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan's shooting rampage at Fort Hood. He killed 13. And now, another year, another mass shooting.

CORBIN: You learn a lot about a community in how it deals with adversity. And we've just had more experience than many other communities in dealing with adversity.

BLOCK: The breakfast crowd at Henderson's Family Restaurant today included a lot of soldiers in desert camouflage; among them, Staff Sgt. Debbie Burton. I talked with her outside. She says she got the emergency popup on her computer yesterday afternoon, heard the warning siren, tried to keep her fellow soldiers calm as well as her mother, home in Connecticut.

STAFF SGT. DEBBIE BURTON: She called me within minutes, and she was crying, and I said, Mom, I'm OK. You know, we're all OK.

BLOCK: We've been through this before, Sgt. Burton says, and she's thinking back not just to that mass assault in 2009, but also to a different incident she saw firsthand and all too close. It was around 2005. She was out on a parade field with her unit conducting physical training. A soldier drove up right out onto the field and shot his wife just a few feet away from Sgt. Burton.

I asked her, as she heard the casualty numbers yesterday, what went through her mind.

BURTON: Thankfully, that was all. I mean, no one losing their life is ever a good thing but compared to what happened in 2009, we were pretty thankful that's all that it was.

BLOCK: It strikes me as a really sad benchmark, that the mass killing in 2009 has become the standard of awfulness and if it wasn't that bad, that's a relief.

BURTON: Yes. That's crazy but yeah, that's true.

BLOCK: After 1st Lt. Christopher Clark got the emergency text yesterday, he was on lockdown for more than four hours. And afterward, as he digested the news, he had this thought.

1ST LT. CHRISTOPHER CLARK: Again? Again? You know, now we are notorious for bad events, you know, here at Fort Hood. And it's unfortunate so, you know. Right now, you know, it's just like, OK, leadership, what are you doing to do about it? You know, what are we doing from this point on, you know, to ensure that this doesn't happen again?

BLOCK: How much do you worry about this on a day-to-day basis, of folks who you know who are struggling, who have mental health issues and who could explode?

CLARK: Well, had it not been for my faith, I would worry about it every single day because it is a serious issue. And I have served with guys, I have deployed with guys who have been on multiple deployments, and they express their concern to leadership but, you know, to no avail, to be honest with you. I'd like to call it an invisible war, really, you know. We're fighting, you know, within ourselves.

We have a lot of guys, again, who've been deployed multiple times. And you can imagine the things that they've seen over the years, and what they have to deal with. And they come home and they deal with the families, you know, and it's just - you still got to go to work. So, you know, it's a lot on these guys. And in my personal opinion, you know, they haven't really been taken care of. They haven't been taken care of.

I mean, I lost a soldier to suicide last January so, you know, I feel a certain type of way about situations like these. And I've seen how leadership handles them.

BLOCK: Counselor Annie Powers specializes in treating PTSD after a long career in the military. She sees a lot of military patients here in Killeen at the Adult, Child and Family Counseling Center; and all of the patients she's talked to since the shooting have been talking about it.

ANNIE POWERS: I could see where they might be concerned about, oh, great - you know - everybody thinks that if you have PTSD and some anger and anxiety and depression issues that you're crazy. There's a lot of people who are afraid to come get the help. They don't want it on their military record. They don't want to go on medication because somebody might know that I couldn't handle it. I wasn't strong enough. And so I have to explain to them that PTSD is not about strength.

BLOCK: And this latest shooting, Powers says, is a powerful negative trigger.

POWERS: OK. Now that you've finally got it into your head that you're probably safe, back to square one. No, we're not safe. See, we told you we weren't safe. And so you have to pick up back there and start - OK, let's talk this out. Let's work it through. What did it bring up for you? Let's go from there, and come back to where we had left off before this happened again.

BLOCK: Again.

POWERS: Yeah.

BLOCK: Annie Powers echoes a feeling we've heard over and over here: Oh, no, not again. We just got over the last one.

I'm Melissa Block in Killeen, Texas.

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