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Obama Honors Victims Of Fort Hood Shooting


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block.

At Fort Hood, Texas, today, a memorial service for the three soldiers killed in last week's shooting, with three battlefield crosses to honor the dead - each made of a helmet, a rifle, and a pair of boots. President Obama was among those who spoke.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Sergeant First Class Daniel Ferguson, Staff Sergeant Carlos Lazeney- Rodriguez, Sergeant Timothy Owens - like the 576 Fort Hood soldiers who have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, they were taken from us much too soon. Like the 13 Americans we lost five years ago, their passing shakes our soul.

BLOCK: President Obama, there referring to the 2009 attack at Fort Hood. NPR's John Burnett was at today's memorial. He joins me now. And, John, tell us more about the service and the president's remarks today.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Well, it was a beautiful cloudless day here over Central Texas for such a sad event. And unfortunately, Fort Hood knows only too well how to produce memorial for soldiers who were murdered on the post. One official told me it was sickeningly similar to the memorial service they held in November of 2009.

You remember Army Major Nidal Hasan opened fire on a processing center for outbound soldiers headed to Afghanistan. He killed 13. He's been sentenced to death. There was the same First Cavalry Band today, the same benediction from the Army chaplain, the lectern set up in front of the fortress-like III Corps Headquarters building, the same flag flying at half-staff. And the president was even here five years ago too. In his 11 minutes of remarks, he did talk about those sad parallels.

OBAMA: Part of what makes this so painful is that we've been here before. This tragedy tears at wounds still raw from five years ago. Once more, soldiers who survived foreign war zones were struck down here at home, where they're supposed to be safe.

BLOCK: President Obama speaking at the memorial service today at Fort Hood. And, John, the audience also heard from military commanders. What did they say?

BURNETT: Yes. And the military commanders all sort of had a variation on the theme. There was General Ray Odierno, the Army Chief of Staff. He said we prepare soldiers for the chaos of war, to possibly lose their lives in the heat of battle. We understand that. We, as soldiers, accept that. That these soldier lost their lives at the hands of one of their comrades in arms is heartbreaking and inexplicable. Odierno said the military has to do a better job of identifying risk factors that lead to violence within the units. And the president also said that the armed forces needs to make sure that mental health counseling is available to every service member. The secretary of the Army, John McHugh, he was here also.

He said soldiers should understand that when they come back from the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan that they're coming home to a military installation that's safe and secure, that's their home. The commander here at Fort Hood, Lieutenant General Mark Milley, he wanted to talk about the military policewoman who confronted the shooter.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL MARK MILLEY: And although this day is a day of grief, it is also a day of pride - pride in the military policewoman who bravely faced down the gunman and helped to end that violence. Many would have taken a step back and sought cover. She took a step forward.

BURNETT: No one mentioned the alleged gunman, Specialist Ivan Lopez, by name. The focus was on the three victims. And, again, they were praised for their heroism. Sergeant First Class Dan Ferguson, for instance, called a hero for bracing a door from the inside and preventing the shooter from getting into that room to harm more soldiers. Sergeant Timothy Owens, who stepped forward and tried to talk Lopez into putting his pistol down before he was fatally shot.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's John Burnett speaking with us from Killeen, Texas, where there was a memorial service today at Fort Hood. John, thanks.

BURNETT: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.