When I read of the tragedy at Fort Hood in my home state of Texas, where a soldier killed 13 of his fellow troops and wounded 30, I couldn’t help thinking of my brief experience at the base.
It was the summer of 2006. I was in Crawford, Texas, home to Bush’s ranch and Camp Casey, the activist camp out organized by Cindy Sheehan who lost her son in Iraq. It was the second year for Camp Casey. But this time, Bush had chosen to spend his holidays elsewhere, which left us with more free time.
Fort Hood, the largest army base in the U.S., where most soldiers heading off to war pass through, is an hour and a half from Crawford. We decided to go there to give information to members of the military. With us were veterans of the war in Iraq and we had leaflets from the GI Rights Hotline, an association that provides counseling to soldiers, including information on how to get out of the military.
We set up about a hundred meters from the entrance during evening rush hour as soldiers left the base. I expected to find myself in a hostile environment, but that’s not the way it turned out.
We had signs with a very simple message, “You don’t have to go.” It was enough to cause many soldiers to stop for more information, even in uniform, violating the military code and in sight of the guards at the entrance to the base. Some drove by in their cars and flashed us the peace sign. Others stopped just long enough to jot down the toll free number for the GI Rights Hotline written in large letters on the side of our van. Spouses, mothers and fathers of soldiers stopped to get material to take home.
Fort Hood has the highest suicide rate of all U.S. bases. Nidal M. Hasan, the soldier who killed his fellow troops, had spent six years, from 2003 to 2009, as a psychiatrist at Walter Reed military hospital in Washington treating soldiers with post-traumatic stress syndrome. He was soon set to deploy to Iraq.
Over three years have passed since I was at Fort Hood. At the time, the Republicans controlled the House, the Senate and the White House. Now the Democrats have the majority. But I feel certain that if I were to go stand in front of the base with the same sign, the scene of three years ago would repeat itself.
STEPHANIE WESTBROOK is a U.S. citizen who has been living in Rome, Italy since 1991. She is active in the peace and social justice movements in Italy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org