Fort Hood no stranger to violent outbursts

Fort Worth Star-TelegramNovember 5, 2009 

FORT WORTH — The Fort Hood community knows all too well about how stress and pressure are taking a tremendous human toll at a time when soldiers are deploying at a more rapid rate to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have stretched on for years.

The massive base – one of the largest U.S. Army bases in the world – has seen its share of incidents, including suicides, which prompted the base's former commander, Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, to speak out earlier this year about problems some soldiers experience when they come home.

In the past year or so, suicide rates are up, domestic violence has increased and at least a dozen deaths reported at Fort Hood since last summer looked suspicious, officials have said. At the same time, more than 500 Fort Hood soldiers have been killed since the U.S. went into Afghanistan and Iraq.

Part of that may be because many may experience post-traumatic stress disorder, some experts believe. Another part, though, may be the stressful life soldiers lead.

"It's the stress level involved in the very existence of soldiers – not only the actual day-to-day stress, but the context they live in, of military preparedness," said Kenneth Sewell, a psychology professor at the University of North Texas in Denton. "Not only is violence part of their daily existence, but the very normal denial that we will not die, which most young people have, is not available to young soldiers.

"They are confronted with their mortality."

Earlier this month, the Army reported 117 suicides of active-duty Army soldiers since January, compared with 103 suicides during the same time last year. Specific numbers for Fort Hood were not released, but base officials launched a major effort to combat stress and suicide.

"All our efforts often come down to one soldier caring enough about another soldier to step in when they see something wrong," Brig. Gen. Colleen McGuire, director of the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force, said at the time.

A look at some cases of violence at or near the base:

-- Two Fort Hood soldiers were taken into police custody after a fight broke, leading to a shooting, at a late-night party in Killeen in August. One person was left dead; details remain sketchy.

-- Spc. Ryan Richard Schlack, 30, died in July after a Fort Hood specialist allegedly shot into a crowd in a Fort Hood housing area, killing him.

-- In September 2008, police investigators said a Fort Hood lieutenant and his staff sergeant went to a soldier's home one morning, a fight broke out and the soldier shot the lieutenant. After police shot at the soldier, he turned the gun on himself.

-- In 1997, the FBI arrested two men and confiscated a truckload of rifles, ammunition and explosives. The men, Michael Leonard Dorsett and Bradley P. Glover, had ties to radical militia groups and were accused of planning to attack the base during Independence Day festivities. They were caught in a state park before they could carry out the plot. Dorsett and Glover were later convicted in federal court on weapons charges and each was sentenced to five years in prison.

-- Outside Fort Hood, in nearby Killeen, was the deadly 1991 Luby's shooting, which left 23 dead and more than 20 others injured before the shooter – 35-year-old George Hennard – killed himself. The shooting for years gave the city beside the base the notorious distinction of being the site of the deadliest mass shooting in the U.S., until the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings.

Staff writers Darren Barbee, Mike Lee and Star-Telegram researcher Cathy Belcher contributed to this report.

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