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An Army Base Isn’t As Safe As You Think

PhD student and Army veteran Mike Stajura discusses mental health in the workplace as a factor in the recent Fort Hood shooting.
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Date: 
Thursday, April 17, 2014
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How could this have happened at Fort Hood again? That’s the lingering question after the shooting that took place two weeks ago in which three people were killed and 16 injured. Talking heads emphasize that last word to remind us of the mass shooting at the base in 2009, when 13 were killed and 30 injured. There’s no easy answer to why it happened again, but it’s worthwhile for us to consider what life on a large Army post is like—and how the Army handles soldiers with mental health issues.

Mass shootings are an American problem, so it should surprise few that they also affect America’s Army. An FBI study found an increased frequency of mass shootings in the U.S.—jumping from an average of five per year from 2000 to 2008 to about 15 per year from 2009 to 2013. Given this national trend, it’s logical that the number of shootings on military installations would rise, too. Except for the belief that things like this aren’t supposed to happen on limited-access, “safe” military bases.

I was stationed at Fort Hood as a young officer in the 1990s, and many people do not fully appreciate that it really is more like a small city than they might think. Including the training grounds, Fort Hood covers an area the size of San Diego. About 45,000 soldiers are stationed there, along with more than 9,000 civilian employees. The post also serves thousands of military families that live on Fort Hood or in the neighboring communities. Fort Hood has a hospital, nine schools, two grocery stores, big-box retail stores, gas stations, four post offices, a fire department with five stations, and a dedicated police force.

Of course, the population of an Army post is generally younger and disproportionately male as compared to that of an average American city. The median household income is also lower. And, unlike other cities, reveille blasts from loudspeakers every morning on Fort Hood, and there are gates with armed guards who provide limited access.

But an army post isn’t as safe as we’d hope; unfortunately, it has many of the same problems we see in typical cities. The blogger ArmyWife101 has noted the widely held perception that there were just as many break-ins, physical attacks, and other crimes on-post as off-post at Fort Bragg, another large Army post in North Carolina. And while reliable crime statistics for Fort Hood are scarce, one online source estimates that violent and property crime rates on Fort Hood exceed those of Texas by 10 percent. I can also personally attest to dealing with a rape and molestation case involving the wife and daughter of a soldier in my unit who was deployed to Bosnia. This was one of several crimes that touched soldiers I served with.

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