Tuesday, November 10, 2009

VA Official Celebrates 'Alive Day' With Crew

By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service

Nov. 10, 2009 - As the nation honors its past and present servicemembers on this Veterans Day, many who have worn the uniform of their country will reflect on their service's creed and what it means to them. One wounded warrior drew strength from the Soldier's Creed during some of the darkest days in her recovery.

Maj. L. Tammy Duckworth, an Army National Guard helicopter pilot and the Veterans Affairs Department's assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs, taped copies of the Soldier's Creed outside her door and across from her bed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here as she struggled to recover from injuries she suffered in Iraq in 2004.

These are the words she said helped her survive:

"I am an American Soldier. I am a Warrior and member of a team. I serve the people of the United States and live the Army values. I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade. I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself. I am an expert and I am a professional. I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat. I am guardian of freedom and the American way of life. I am an American soldier."

"For me, the Soldier's Creed was critical to my survival after I was injured," Duckworth said. "When I woke up and I was going through everything I was going through in an intensive care unit and when I finally went to my room, they just had my name on the outside of my door. And, I wanted people to know that a soldier was in this room.

"I put that creed outside of my door because that is what I lived by," she continued. "I put it on my room on the wall opposite of my bed so that I could read it every day, and on the days when I didn't think I could make it."

This year, the day after Veterans Day, Duckworth and the Black Hawk crew that was with her the day their helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade will get together to reminisce and celebrate their "alive day" -- a day known to wounded warriors as the day they were wounded and lived.

"We get together once a year on 'alive day' to celebrate survival, to celebrate a new birthday," she said. "That day will be stuck in our minds for the rest of our lives. It can be a really sad day or it can be a really happy day, and we chose to make it a happy day."

The crew has come together to celebrate every year since 2005, except for last year, when some deployed with the Missouri National Guard. The crew, all of whom serve with the Illinois and Missouri National Guards, consists of Chief Warrant Officer Dan Milberg, Chief Warrant Officer Pat Meunks, Sgt. Chris Fierce, Warrant Officer Kurt Hanneman, Sgt. Matt Backeus and Duckworth.

Deployment to Iraq

Duckworth, a Guardsman for 18 years, deployed to Iraq in March 2004 as the assistant operations officer for an aviation task force consisting of more than 400 soldiers and 44 Black Hawks and Chinook helicopters.

"I was a battle captain," she said. "I ran the tactical operations center, and I did everything from receiving missions, assigning them to the various task forces, keeping track of aircraft as they flew their missions."

In addition, Duckworth sought permission to carry on flying twice a week.

"All aviators want to do is to just fly," she explained. "We don't want to man a desk. We want to go outside the wire and fly."

Duckworth had logged about 200 hours of flight time when her aircraft was struck. When she wasn't flying, she was managing aircraft from the tactical operations center.

"We had aircraft mishaps, but nobody was injured by hostile fire," she said. "It was really interesting, because I was the battle captain when those mishaps happened, and I had to be the one to lead the response. ... And as a result of a series of mishaps before mine, I had actually put into place and refined a procedure of how we would operate for the next mishap."

On the day Duckworth was injured north of Baghdad, she had served in Iraq eight months to the day.
She recalled that she and her crew were approaching the end of their eight-hour mission when they received orders to divert to Taji to retrieve some passengers.

"We diverted over, but the personnel were gone by the time we got to their location," she said.

After reaching Taji and with no additional passengers, Duckworth and her crew resumed the last leg of their flight to Balad. "We had a really great day, as a matter of fact," she said. "We had a crew that I really enjoyed flying with."

Duckworth said she had always looked forward to the flight with Milberg, a senior pilot who had flown in Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and always prepared for the "what ifs."

"I had just handed over the flight controls to Dan when I heard the 'tap, tap, tap' on the fuselage, and I knew that we were hit," she said. "I was in the position of reaching forward when the RPG hit, and that blew off the entire back of my right arm. It basically anatomized my right leg. It kicked my left leg up into the instrumental panel, and that sheared my leg off and the cockpit filled with smoke."

The RPG punched a gaping hole into the aircraft's floor and control systems. Duckworth continued to attempt to fly the aircraft, but was in and out of consciousness. With her entire instrument panel inoperable, she recalled calling on her other crew members to check their status, but received no response. She thought she was the only one alive. She instinctively fell back on her training to try to complete the landing, she said.

At the time of the landing, she recalled, she didn't know her legs weren't attached. "How often do you look down to see if your legs are there?" she said. "I could still feel them."

While Duckworth searched for a safe place to land, the perfect clearing materialized. "We were over a grove of trees with no place to land, but it was like a miracle when I saw an open space in a field," she said.
Duckworth was fading in and out of consciousness, but unbeknownst to her, Milberg also spotted the same clear landing. It was Milberg who flew and landed the aircraft, she said, adding that she is satisfied she attempted to do her job despite being incapacitated.

Duckworth credits Milberg's superior pilot skills and his clear-headed actions with saving their lives. Milberg later received the Distinguish Flying Cross for his actions.

Once their Black Hawk landed, a medical evacuation helicopter arrived in seconds. Duckworth's crew did not realize she was alive, due to the severity of her injuries. But the crew chiefs of the two aircraft suspected she might still be alive and called for medical attention, even as one of them was severely injured himself.

The medevac aircraft crew checked on Duckworth and realized she was in critical condition; her femoral artery was severed along with her legs. She would have bled out within minutes without the proper medical treatment.

Duckworth received treatment in Baghdad and later Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany to stabilize her condition. She woke up eight days later at Walter Reed.

Though she didn't know it at the time, it was the procedures Duckworth had written that ultimately helped her unit handle the downing of the aircraft. Her immediate supervisor later told her that the center's staff began pulling together the proper procedures to follow, and at the time, he realized they were using what she had recently implemented. Essentially, her best efforts to save others in time of distress would instead be used to respond to her own shootdown.

Arriving at Walter Reed

"When I woke up in Walter Reed in intensive care, I had the imprints of the flight controls bruised into both of my hands," Duckworth said. "I was hanging on to them as hard as I could, even though they were probably severed from the blast."

Waiting by her bedside were the first four female amputee warriors, whose friendship she values in the bond they share.

"Before I even woke up, all four of the previous female amputees had been in to see my family and to see me," Duckworth said. While they may not see each other every day, they are always there for her if she needs to talk, she said.

One of the female wounded warriors who helped her during the most difficult part of her recovery was Army Sgt. 1st Class Juanita Wilson, who helped Duckworth manage the pain when her body wouldn't tolerate morphine before one of her many surgeries.

"I lay in bed for five days in pain. She was the only one who really understood," Duckworth recalled. "She radiated this peace and this serenity, and I would lay there in absolute agony, counting down the minutes, and I would look at her and she would just smile ... and tell me that I could do it. Even so soon after her own injuries, she was still a true [noncommissioned officer], and backbone of the Army for this soldier."

Duckworth spent 13 months at Walter Reed, and was released on Dec. 14, 2005, nearly a year after she was injured.

Moving On

Soon after leaving Walter Reed, Duckworth became the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, where she served until 2008. The U.S. Senate confirmed her for her current job on April 22 and she was sworn in by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki on April 24.

"There is no way I could have predicted that I would end up here," she said. Prior to her deployment, she worked for Rotary International, working on international public health projects.

"The last thing I was trying to do before I was deployed was trying to get wheelchairs sent to Iraq for war victims and civilians who had been injured," she added. "I loved that public health aspect, and I am very concerned about the health aspect."

Duckworth said she reflects on her injury day, and while she doesn't know why she survived, she realized very soon afterward that she would make it count.

"I don't know why I survived Iraq, and I don't know why I made it home, but I want to use this time to give back to my buddies from Iraq," she said.

Despite her injuries, Duckworth is still able to fly. When she returns home to Illinois and the weather accommodates, she flies a Piper Warrior.

"Being able to still fly is two things: it is joy, ... and the other component of it is just control of my life," she said. "And, it is not letting the insurgent who shot an RPG at me have control of my life, and he is not going to take something away from me. For me, it is also a determination to live my life the way I want to live it."

For her heroism and ability to live up to the Soldier's Creed, Duckworth was awarded the Purple Heart, the Air Medal and the Combat Action Badge.

(This is the 15th installment of the Wounded Warrior Diaries series. Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg works in the Defense Media Activity's emerging media directorate.)

Fort Hood Renders Emotional Farewell to Fallen Comrades

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 10, 2009 - Thousands of soldiers, veterans, military family members and civilian employees gathered here beneath brilliant blue skies to bid an emotional farewell to 13 of their own killed during last week's shooting rampage, and to support the families left behind. Many of the 38 wounded during the attack had recovered enough from their injuries to attend today's memorial service, which included eulogies by President Barack Obama, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey Jr. and Army Lt. Gen. Robert W. Cone, the 3rd Corps and Fort Hood commander.

The service, held in front of the flag-draped 3rd Corps headquarters, opened with the haunting call of bagpipes. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Donald Felt read a roll call, marked by painful silences after the names of the fallen. The 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Air Cavalry Brigade broke the quiet with the roaring firing of volleys.

A flag fluttered in the breeze at half-staff as the 1st Cavalry Division's Army Master Sgt. Natasha Harley delivered a soulful rendition of "Amazing Grace." But nothing captured the solemnity of the occasion as movingly as Army Sgt. Christopher William's gut-wrenching wail of taps.

"For those families who have lost a loved one, no words can fill the void that has been left," Obama told those gathered in a sea of Army combat uniforms that stretched across the parade field.

But the president assured the families that their mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters and brothers won't be forgotten. "Your loved ones endure through the life of our nation," he said. "Their memory will be honored in the places they lived and by the people they touched. Their life's work is our security, and the freedom that we too often take for granted."

Official comments during today's service, and in interviews with soldiers here, reflected an unshakable bewilderment that the losses allegedly came at the hands of one of Fort Hood's own soldiers.

Cone noted the hundreds of losses Fort Hood has suffered on the battlefield. "Never did we expect to pay such a high price at home," he said.

"It's just sad that it had to be one of our own," Army Spc. Brian Hill of the 2nd Warrior Transition Battalion said of the suspected gunman. "That's been the hardest part to deal with. At home, you don't expect things like this to happen."

Hill, who walks with a cane after being wounded in Iraq, said he's working through the stages of grief and acceptance since the incident – first shock, then grief and sadness, and now, as he hears more details, anger. Stopping short of assigning blame, he said, "it's senseless, and it never should have happened."

"It was a kick in the gut," Casey acknowledged during his address, but also one that evoked countless acts of bravery and selflessness amidst the tragedy.

The fallen shared a belief in the United States' values and ideals and a willingness to put themselves on the line to protect it, he said. "They gave their lives for something they loved and believed in," he told their families.

Cone joined Obama and Casey in calling on his soldiers, their families and the close-knit local community to take care of each other as they work through the tragedy.

Many of his soldiers called today's service an important step in a healing process they said begins with honoring the fallen and their families.

"It reaffirmed who we are and what we stand for," said Army Spc. Jerry Jeanlouis, an Army reservist with the 478th Transportation Company here preparing for his upcoming deployment.

Jeanlouis was scheduled to be at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center when the gunshots erupted there last week. But instead, he had asked to postpone his appointment so he could go to the range for additional weapons training.

Several of his fellow soldiers were at the facility, but none were among those killed or wounded.

"Now, we must move on," Jeanlouis said after today's service. "We will carry the memories of the fallen in our hearts."

Army Sgt. John Vacaro, a Ranger assigned to the 38th Cavalry's B Troop, came to today's service "to honor our comrades, our brothers in arms."

He was across post in West Fort Hood when the shooting occurred, and didn't know anyone directly affected. But Vacaro said the incident struck deeply throughout the Fort Hood community.

Back home only since August after a 12-month deployment to Iraq, Vacaro shook his head contemplating that a soldier had allegedly taken his fellow soldiers' lives on their home soil. "This is supposed to be your safe spot," he said.

Army Spc. Peter Kniskern, a 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery soldier who returned from Iraq in July, was two blocks away when the shots rang out that afternoon of Nov. 5.

Kniskern had just come off the previous night's staff duty, and was catching some shut-eye in his barracks room when his cell phone started buzzing. Anxious family members in Alabama were calling and sending text messages, wanting to know if he was OK. He'd heard sirens in the distance, but not yet aware of the shooting, had dismissed them as some kind of drill.

"It's an eye-opener," he said of the incident, still unable to accept that the accused is a soldier. "It was one of our own guys who we trusted."

Today, as he waited for the memorial service to begin, Kniskern said the significance of today's service transcended the luminaries at the podium.

"This is about us paying respect," he said. "I'm just happy that they are being honored, and that the family members are being taken care of and respected."

Army Sgt. John Newhof, a 38th Cavalry B Troop soldier, said today's service sends a message beyond Fort Hood's gates. "It shows the outside world that we take care of our families and each other," he said. "This is one large family."

"This shows the world that we stick together....It shows that we are a family," echoed Jenni Yacub, wife of retired Army Sgt. Harold Yacub, who works at the base's military pay office.

Yacub wasn't at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center during the shootings, but several of her coworkers were, helping soldiers just returned from deployments or preparing to deploy soon.

Behavioral counselors arrived at her office the next day to give the staff an opportunity to talk about the whirlwind of emotions they were experiencing. "That helped a lot," Yacub said.

"We have to get through this," she said, her voice choking with emotion. "It's all a part of moving beyond what has happened."

Yacub called today's service a big step in that direction. "It's very, very important to us," she said, particularly with the president's show of support. "It touches us," she said. "It shows that he cares about the soldiers."

Her husband, who retired from Fort Hood and has lived in the local community for the past 15 years, said today's service helps bring a sense of closure from last week's tragedy.

"This is a very supportive, military-oriented community. We're bonding together and dealing with the tragedy," he said. "But it really helps to know that we have support from the president, the vice president and the whole chain of command ... We as a community will get through this."

As he began walking off the parade field after today's service, cane in hand, Hill said he was happy to see the fallen properly honored. "This is a part of closure that will start the healing process," he said.

MILITARY CONTRACTS November 10, 2009

Bechtel Plant Machinery, Inc., Monroeville, Pa., is being awarded a $110,459,702 modification to a previously awarded contract (N00024-07-C-2102) for naval nuclear propulsion components. Work will be performed in Schenectady, N.Y. (86 percent), and Monroeville, Pa. (14 percent). No contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. No completion date or additional information is provided on contracts supporting the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. The contracting activity is the Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C.

EG&G Technical Services, Inc., Stafford, Va., is being awarded a $39,421,851 time-and-material contract for the procurement of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle contract support services. The MRAP vehicles are armored vehicles with blast resistant underbodies designed to protect the crew from mine blasts, fragmentary and direct fire weapons. This contract will procure services to support the MRAP program in the following areas: program management, acquisition, systems engineering, test and evaluation, logistics, safety, quality and administrative support. Work will be performed in Stafford, Va., and is expected to be completed by the end of November 2010. Contract funds in the amount of $39,421,851 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured, with two proposals solicited and two offers received. The contracting activity is the Marine Corps Systems Command, Quantico, Va., (M67854-10-F-5023).

W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Co., Biloxi, Miss., is being awarded a $37,258,000 firm-fixed-price contract for construction of a community hospital tower at Keesler Air Force Base. Work will be performed in Biloxi, Miss., and is expected to be completed by Sept. 2011. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via the Navy Electronic Commerce Online website,with seven proposals received. The contracting activity is the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Southeast, Jacksonville, Fla., (N69450-10-C-0763).

US Foodservice Baltimore/Washington, Severn, Md., is being awarded a maximum $19,387,500 fixed-price with economic price adjustment, prime vendor contract for total food and beverage support. There are no other locations of performance. Using services are Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and federal civilian agencies. The original proposal was web solicited with three responses. Contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract is exercising the fourth option year period. The date of performance completion is Nov. 13, 2010. The contracting activity is the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pa., (SPM300-08-D-3186).

Jianas Brothers Packaging Co., Kansas City, Mo.*, is being awarded a maximum $7,369,320 firm-fixed-price, total set aside contract for MRE Program food components. There are no other locations of performance. Using services are Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and federal civilian agencies. There were originally seven proposals solicited with five responses. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract is exercising the fourth option year period. The date of performance completion is Nov. 13, 2010. The contracting activity is the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pa., (SPM3S1-06-D-Z119).

Chairman Hails Nation's Veterans

American Forces Press Service

Nov. 10, 2009 - In his annual Veterans Day message, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, notes that gratitude for U.S. military veterans is evident not only in the United States, but also overseas. Here is the text of the admiral's message:

Since the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, our Nation has reverently reflected upon those who selflessly defend America. This day now symbolizes the deep gratitude of citizens for their military: the millions of dedicated Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen and their families.
Tangible depictions and memorials to military service exist in cities across our land and even overseas: commemorating Soldiers and Airmen who liberated Europe, Sailors who won the war in the Pacific, Marines who etched their glory in stone at Iwo Jima, and Coast Guardsmen who stand watch over our shores. But the spirit behind such service truly resides in the hearts and souls of our veterans themselves. America could not be more proud of you.

This spirit of service continues to shine in the faces of veterans today. I have seen them this year in my travels around the world and throughout our Nation. We are committed to remembering their service, caring for wounded warriors and their families, and overcoming the challenge of homelessness.

On this day we stop to reflect on the invaluable sacrifice so selflessly given by those who have gone before us. We will never forget them, their families or the freedoms we enjoy today because of their devotion to duty.

To all our veterans – past and present – and your families, the Joint Chiefs and I salute you and thank you for your service.

Gates Notes Poignancy of Veterans Day Observance

American Forces Press Service

Nov. 10, 2009 - The Nov. 5 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, provides a special sense of poignancy to this year's Veterans Day observance, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in his annual message commemorating the holiday. Here is the text of the secretary's message:

On this our ninth Veterans Day since the attacks on September 11th, let us take a moment to remember those, past and present, who have served our nation in uniform.

Today we remain a nation at war with hundreds of thousands of men and women deployed far from home. Those serving on the front lines face hardship, danger, and a ruthless and resourceful enemy. Their families keeping vigilant watch for their loved one's return serve and sacrifice as well.

This Veterans Day is especially poignant given the atrocity that took place at Fort Hood, where those who stepped forward to serve were cut down as they were preparing to deploy. The thoughts and prayers of the entire country are with the wounded and the families of the fallen. Our hope is that time will eventually assuage the anguish that this terrible act has caused.

Our nation cannot fully repay the debt owed our veterans and their families, but we can use this opportunity to reflect and remember what these brave Americans have done. David Lloyd George, speaking during the opening months of World War I, the conflict that began this day of remembrance, said: "The stern hand of fate has scourged us to an elevation where we can see the everlasting things that matter for a nation – the great peaks we had forgotten, of Honor, Duty, Patriotism, and clad in glittering white, the towering pinnacle of sacrifice pointing like a rugged finger to Heaven."

To America's veterans: on behalf of a grateful nation, thank you for your towering pinnacle of sacrifice on behalf of your countrymen.

Executive Order Seeks More Veterans in Government

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 10, 2009 - President Barack Obama signed an executive order yesterday aimed at hiring more veterans to work in the federal government. A governmentwide Council on Veterans' Employment will be chaired by Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

The order calls on each federal agency to establish a veterans employment program office designed to help veterans get through the maze of paperwork as they apply for positions in the federal work force and mandates that agencies train personnel specialists on veteran employment policies.

It calls on agencies to work with the Defense Department and VA to develop and apply technologies designed to help disabled veterans.

A smaller steering committee that includes the defense, VA and labor secretaries and the director of the Office of Personnel Management also was created by the order. The smaller committee will focus on the kinds of employment opportunities available to veterans and the assistance that they need to transition from the military to federal civilian jobs.

Marilee Fitzgerald, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for civilian personnel policy, said the executive order is intended to promote and showcase opportunities for veterans. "The idea is to generate attention to the skills and capabilities that our men and women in the military possess across the federal government," she said.

The Defense Department has 750 career fields and employs about 350,000 veterans. "We're very fortunate in the Defense Department to understand how good our veterans are and how they train, what they do, and other federal agencies don't," Fitzgerald said in an interview. "The idea is to ensure we can leverage and coordinate our efforts across the federal entity to ensure they become as acquainted with our veterans as the Department of Defense."

The directors of the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget have placed special emphasis on improving the hiring process governmentwide, Fitzgerald said, and the veterans initiative will benefit from that. The federal hiring process will be streamlined to make it easier for people to apply for federal jobs, she explained.

Noel Koch, deputy undersecretary of defense for wounded warrior care and transition policy, said the executive order will make it easier for disabled veterans to gain federal employment. Medical advances have changed just what a disability is in the United States today, he noted.

"We have double amputees jumping out of airplanes, and they still are able to serve in the military," Koch said. "We have a different idea about what is fit to fight than we used to have."

The problems come with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. "There is still a stigma associated with that, no matter what we try to do to erase that," he said. "They don't want this on their record. Many of our people want to go into law enforcement, for example. If you've got this on your record, there is a prejudice against people who have this disorder from carrying weapons. These are just some of the obstacles these people face."

The president's order will go a long way toward solving many of these problems, Koch said, noting that the Defense Department and the VA hire many veterans.

"Department of Homeland Security could and should [hire veterans]," he said. "Where the real issue comes is with the domestic agencies – Department of Transportation, Health and Human Services, Education and so on. There, the numbers [of veterans hired] are much lower, and we have to correct that."

VA Suffers Losses, Offers Help at Fort Hood

American Forces Press Service

Nov. 10, 2009 - In the midst of providing mental health services and other support to the Fort Hood, Texas, community following the recent shooting there, the Department of Veterans Affairs learned about its own losses from the violence. Two VA employees, both serving on active duty with their Army Reserve units, were among the slain. A third VA health care worker on reserve duty was seriously wounded.

"Speaking for the entire VA family, I offer heartfelt condolences to the families of these dedicated VA employees," said Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. "They devoted their working lives to care for our veterans, and they died in uniform, preparing to safeguard our nation's freedom."

Russell G. Seager a 51-year old nurse practitioner at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee and a captain in the Army Reserve, was killed in the deadly attack. In his VA duties, he led a mental health team treating a wide variety of veteran patients, from the youngest combat veterans just back from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan to World War II veterans dealing with depression.

Seager signed up for the Army Reserve four years ago and was preparing for his first overseas deployment when he was killed. VA officials said he was motivated to prevent the mental health problems of young combat soldiers from occurring in the first place. He was to be assigned to a combat stress control unit to watch for warning signs, such as anger and insubordination, among front-line soldiers.

Seager, who held a doctorate degree and was a well-respected teacher at Bryant and Stratton College in Milwaukee, leaves behind a wife and son.

VA's other fatality was Juanita L. Warman, 55, a nurse practitioner at VA's medical center in Perry Point, Md. She was a lieutenant colonel in the Maryland National Guard, with two daughters and six grandchildren. She was the daughter of a career Air Force member and held a master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh.

Warman volunteered for "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon," a program to help members of the Maryland National Guard readjust after returning from overseas deployments. She provided mental health counseling and helped to develop a program about the myths and realities of post-traumatic stress disorder. She was preparing for deployment to Iraq at the time of her death.

Dorothy Carskadon, 47, a captain in the Army Reserve and a social worker and team leader at the VA Vet Center in Madison, Wis., was wounded. She was reported to be in stable condition in the intensive care unit at Fort Hood's Darnall Army Medical Center.

As a VA team leader, Carskadon oversees other social workers in providing individual and group counseling for combat veterans experiencing difficulty readjusting to the civilian community following military service. A new Army officer, Carskadon was preparing for her first deployment.

On an average day, officials said, more than 850 VA employees don uniforms to serve military commitments in Reserve and National Guard units across the country and overseas.

VA has been responding to the Fort Hood tragedy since shortly after the sound of gunfire was replaced by the sirens of emergency responders. Through official agreements and the shared sense of mission to care for military members and veterans in the central Texas region, VA has provided clinical supplies, including pharmaceuticals, and sent mental health teams from nearby facilities as well as four fully staffed, portable Vet Centers to aid in counseling military members and families.

Teams of physicians, nurses and other VA clinical and support personnel were placed on stand-by for possible deployment to Fort Hood or to receive additional patients following the shooting.

VA operates several clinical and benefits processing locations on Fort Hood, and routinely has about 18 employees working on the post. Initial actions included confirming the safety and security of those employees.

VA continues to coordinate with the Defense Department in providing care and support to all those affected by the tragedy, officials said.

(From a Department of Veterans Affairs news release.)

Fort Hood Soldiers Reach Out to Families, Each Other

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Nov. 10, 2009 - Waiting at the airport last night for the last families to arrive for today's ceremony honoring victims of the fatal shooting rampage at nearby Fort Hood, several soldiers were dealing with their own pain and confusion by reaching out to families of the fallen and to each other. Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Hall, Army Sgt. 1st Class Marcus Rodriquez and Army Spc. Laurence Palmer manned a table near the airport's baggage claim area, where they welcomed arriving families of the 13 people killed and 38 others wounded during the Nov. 5 incident.

"We're here to meet the families, to hug then and tell them God is looking out for them," said Hall, a member of the U.S. Army Garrison. "We hope to give them a sense of comfort and community and to make sure they know that the Army is there for them."

Army Chief Warrant Officer 1 John Mabry, a human intelligence collection technician with 3rd Corps, stood with a list of incoming family members, checking to make sure all had transportation, a place to sleep and contacts for anything they might need while at Fort Hood.

"We want to be gracious hosts," he said. "What we're really doing is trying to help them through the worst time of their life."

Army Chaplain (Capt.) Kehmes Lands stood by to offer spiritual support. "Some of the families are taking it really bad," he said. "With others, you see them trying to hold it together in the airport. But as a chaplain, I can see through it, so I reach out to them."

Lands took several of the arriving families aside last night, praying with them and telling them about services available for them through the post's spiritual fitness center. Many of the families were gathered there last night, he said, seeking strength from each other through their shared sense of loss.

Memorial services are an all-too-familiar occurrence at Fort Hood, where the 1st Cavalry Division alone typically holds about one a month to honor combat casualties.

But Rodriguez, a U.S. Army Garrison soldier who's been stationed at Fort Hood for two and a half years, was struggling last night to come to terms with how a soldier could have turned on his fellow soldiers.

"I have mixed emotions," he said, including anger that the suspect is a soldier. "That has a lot of people upset," he said. It's just a tragic incident."

"You expect something like this when you go to war," said Army Staff Sgt. Andrea Hopkins, a reservist from the 1972nd Combat Stress Control Unit, who was among the mental-health team members called to Fort Hood after the shooting. "But it's just not something you expect at home."

Especially painful, she said, is the fact that the alleged shooter was a fellow mental-health provider, and that one of the soldiers wounded was a reservist from her Seattle-based unit.

As Hopkins stood at the airport last night awaiting another unit member's arrival, she struggled with her own cloud of emotions, including guilt that she hadn't been there for her fellow soldiers.

She and 12 other members of her unit had been slated to deploy to Iraq, but Hopkins' name had been taken off the list, she explained. She hadn't pushed to have her name reinstated -- mostly because she'd just returned from a deployment in 2007 -- and as a result, hadn't been with them at Fort Hood's Soldier Readiness Processing Station on Nov. 5.

One of her fellow reservists was shot and ended up hospitalized. Another, Hopkins' battle buddy, hadn't been hurt, but was badly shaken by the incident. "It makes you feel responsible when they are your soldiers," Hopkins said. "My soldiers were there, and I wasn't there for my battle buddy."

If there's one positive takeaway from the tragedy, Rodriquez said, it's knowing how his fellow soldiers stood up to protect and help each other while in the line of fire.

"I'm so proud of these guys," he said. "They did exactly what the Army taught them. They took care of their battle buddies and watched out for them. And when you think about what they did, the pride comes back."

Lands predicted that today's ceremony will help the entire Fort Hood community share that sense of pride, while helping families "get over the hump" to begin the long process of healing.

"They are going to see the good part of what we do: the perfection of the military, and how we honor soldiers, how we honor families and friends," he said.

Lands said he's been amazed at tragedy's unexpected impact. "I've seen the community come together like never before," he said. "We're stronger today than we ever were before."