Unit that lost three members in Fort Hood shooting deploys to Afghanistan

image_8719122Unit that lost three members in Fort Hood shooting deploys to Afghanistan

'No one is going to stop us from completing our mission.'

By Jeremy Schwartz


Saturday, December 05, 2009

Less than a month after losing three of its members to the worst mass shooting on an American military base, the tiny 467th Medical Detachment — made up of fewer than 50 mental health professionals — boarded a plane for Afghanistan in the chilly, predawn hours Friday.

The Madison, Wis.-based Army Reserve unit, which also saw six of it soldiers wounded in the attack, will now provide counseling, stress relief and therapy to service members throughout Afghanistan, traveling to both large bases and far-flung outposts where soldiers face constant threats.

First Sgt. James McLeod said the experience would help members of the unit when they arrive in Afghanistan, where American troops are suffering their worst casualties in the eight-year war.

"We are now better equipped to help soldiers in theater from this incident," he said. "We're better equipped to talk with soldiers and understand their feelings and emotions."

Maj. Laura Suttinger, commander of the unit, said the soldiers were determined to carry on after the attack.

"I think they decided that same day that they were more dedicated than ever in honor of the soldiers we lost," she said.

President Barack Obama announced this week that he will send an additional 30,000 troops to the country. At the same time, mental health professionals are in short supply throughout the military.

The combat stress unit includes psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, social workers and psychiatric nurses.

Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan, who has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder in connection with the attack, was supposed to deploy with the unit, Fort Hood officials have said.

Hasan was not a member of the unit, but medical professionals often deploy as part of a professional filler system, joining units shortly before deployment.

The unit had arrived at Fort Hood a day before the Nov. 5 shootings for a month of final training and paperwork before the scheduled deployment.

Members of the unit were at Fort Hood's busy Soldier Readiness Processing Center, where soldiers make final predeployment checks such as making sure their vaccinations are up-to-date and arranging wills, when officials say Hasan opened fire on soldiers.

Hasan remains at San Antonio's Brooke Army Medical Center, where military officials are planning a mental evaluation.

Hasan's attorney has said Hasan might pursue an insanity defense.

Department of Defense officials decided this week to send the unit to Afghanistan as originally scheduled, Army officials said.

Jay Adams, a spokesman for the unit, said the soldiers in the unit were assessed and evaluated to determine whether they could handle the deployment. About 10 volunteers from other units filled the empty slots of the dead and wounded soldiers, officials said.

"They basically bonded together as a team and pulled themselves together," Adams said. "There is a tremendous need for the services they provide, and that will get bigger as more troops go to Afghanistan."

[caption id="attachment_2774" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Members of the 467th Medical Detachment left Fort Hood on Friday."]Members of the 467th Medical Detachment left Fort Hood on Friday.[/caption]

The 43 soldiers who left in the early morning darkness Friday carried with them identical black bracelets, each etched with the names of their fallen comrades: Staff Sgt. Amy Krueger, Capt. Russell Seager and Maj. Libardo Caraveo of the 467th, as well as two soldiers from a fellow combat stress unit.

"It's an honor to (the dead soldiers) to move forward," McLeod said. "No one is going to stop us from completing our mission."

(We met with the 467th this week. An amazing group of soldiers.)